Walsh, Boston 2024 must amend USOC agreement

Last week’s “reveal” by the Boston 2024 committee, the non-profit organization that has led the effort to bring the Summer Games to Boston, was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the presentation offered the most in-depth glimpse to date at what could be a thrilling sports and cultural event— one that would bring Boston into an unprecedented spotlight on the world stage.

Only the most cynical Bostonians — and, yes, we have a large demographic that fits that category — could look upon the prospect of the Games and not admit that parts of this endeavor would be amazing.

But, there are elements of the planning effort that should give even the most wide-eyed boosters real pause.

As first reported in this newspaper, there are glaring holes in the Boston 2024 financial projections. Most notable among these are major transportation improvement projects at JFK-UMass station and Kosciuszko Circle that have not been accounted for in state budget plans to date. Further, the acquisition of privately held land at Columbia Point — a necessity if the proposed Olympic Athletes’ Village is to be built here in Dorchester— has also not been accounted for in the 2024 price tag. And, as we reported online last Thursday, several key landowners here in Dorchester have not even been consulted about their willingness to sell or lease their properties.

But the most troublesome revelation of last week came when the Globe discovered that an agreement signed by Mayor Walsh and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) included a clause that prohibits city employees from speaking out publicly against the Olympic bid. It was characterized as a “boilerplate” document and Mayor Walsh earnestly tried to bat down the fallout, promising not to enforce any such rule.

But, why would he — or any designated staff member — agree to such a blatant infringement of First Amendment rights? To do so without amendment indicates a level of desperation that is completely unwarranted. If the Olympic movement’s culture is one that seeks to stifle free speech, they most certainly picked the wrong city — and probably the wrong country. We should not have given them the impression that we are willing to be complicit in such a deal.

Walsh and the newly named executive director of the Boston 2024 outfit, Richard Davey, should seek to permanently amend the agreement to reflect Walsh’s stated position. Leaving it intact — despite Walsh’s assurances to the contrary — sets a dangerous precedent. While the present city administration would likely adhere to Walsh’s promise that there would be “no consequences” to employees who express dissent, there can be no guarantee that a successor mayor might not seek to enforce it.

Boston may well host these Olympic Games — and we’re still willing to hear out all sides in the argument. But proponents must make a good- faith effort to prove that this event won’t require us to sell out one of our core values in the process. The agreement needs to be amended.
– Bill Forry

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