John Fish, Olympics Opposition, and Patriotism

The leader of Boston's 2024 bid is in hot water after remarks about patriotism.

Associated Press

Associated Press

John Fish, embattled leader of the effort to bring the 2024 Olympics to Boston, knows that his team needs to change the narrative in the face of plummeting support. But his new strategy—bemoaning a lack of “patriotism”—has so far not shown signs of turning things around.

The implication that opposition to an American games means insufficient love of country has, for months, been a theme lurking just beneath the surface of the push to bring the games to Boston.

“One state lawmaker likened criticism of the Olympic plan to speaking in favor of an enemy nation during a time of war, saying it seemed ‘unpatriotic,'” The Globe‘s Jim O’Sullivan reported in January.

But this week, Fish seemed to make it explicit in remarks caught on camera by WCVB. “What bothers me a lot is the decline of pride, of patriotism, and love for our country,” he said. (The video has since been removed from WCVB’s website, but exists elsewhere online.)

WCVB characterized the quote as Fish criticizing Boston 2024 opponents, though other reports suggest that in context, he was speaking to a general cultural problem that could be addressed by bringing the Olympics to the United States. The WCVB reading won the day, though. It was a losing message, inspiring virulent protests from those Fish seemed to accuse of insufficient love for America. Search for Fish’s name on Twitter this week, and you’ll find that outrage.

Even supporters took issue with the patriotism argument.

“I think the big issue that the people in Boston and Massachusetts face is that they don’t have a concrete proposal to chew on,” Governor Charlie Baker told WCVB.

For Fish, the whole episode comes as prominent people start to question his current role in the Boston 2024 effort. Mayor Walsh seemed to suggest that by downsizing his leadership role, Fish could save the bid (though Walsh followed up to say he was not urging Fish to step aside.)

Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi wrote, “The question is how to get Fish to step aside, but not completely step away. His financial contributions are critical to Boston 2024, and he’s a true believer in the Games.”

It’s a harsh appraisal of the man who is largely responsible for securing the USOC’s selection of Boston in the first place. But among Fish’s flaws, Vennochi wrote, are “thin skin, a tin ear, and a habit of blurting out what he really thinks about people who don’t share his vision.” No doubt his latest comments haven’t helped that image.