A Call for Honesty in Boston

Paging Mr. Orwell!

Following the United States Olympic Committee selecting Boston as the U.S. representative to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, Mayor Martin Walsh signed an agreement with the USOC that bars city officials from “making negative comments” about the games, according to documents obtained and released by MassLive on Wednesday.

“Making negative comments” is a dangerously general statement. Forget about the potential freedom of speech implications for a moment. It’s generalized statements like this one that lead to trouble.

Leaving the statement broad and general allows room for interpretation, and at the same time, room to fit the statement where one sees fit. This gray area leaves questions marks as to what is allowed and what is punishable. Preferable would be a narrowly worded, specific idea closes the gray gap, making it clear which side of the line a “negative comment” would fall on.

The mayor subsequently put out a statement saying that the language used was typical “boilerplate language,” which is simply routine language added into a contract. A USOC spokesperson echoed the mayor’s “boilerplate language” message.

While slightly less problematic than barring officials from “making negative comments,” the whole “boilerplate language” defense, to me, comes off as disingenuous. While my first reaction was that it’s tone-deaf, there’s far too strong a cognizant heavy-hand, far too much purpose behind the statement. It’s the Olympics; heavy-handedness is the name of the game.

My biggest problem with it all, and especially the “making negative comments” line, is that regardless of its intent, the entire line of communication comes off as prohibiting an honest conversation about a topic that desperately needs it.

Since Boston was announced at the U.S. representative in the bidding process, there has been a strong – and growing – groundswell of opposition from people of the city, state and country. And for good reason, as eyes are opening across the globe to the harsh consequences that come with hosting an international sports mega-event (ie. Olympics or World Cup). Countries and cities are saying no to intense gentrification, militarization, displacement, vast fiscal irresponsibility, etc., etc., etc.

What we need above all else is an open and honest conversation from the politicians and those in power who enable international sports organizations like the IOC and FIFA to continue exploiting and ravaging host cities and countries.

Trying to herd opinion in one direction by suppressing the other is hardly the prescribed remedy for any situation. Could it be that those in charge fear a policy of open honesty amongst their own because they fear the opposition lies not just in the public but amongst themselves as well?

These events are tearing at the fabric of our global communities from the smallest to the largest levels. The mayor of Boston and the USOC owe the city officials – as well as the people of the city and country – a transparent and honest discussion over a bid to host the 2024 Olympics that will impact the city for decades to come.

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