Boston’s New No. 1 Export: Olympic Opposition

No Boston Olympics visited Germany and found that the tools that helped topple Boston 2024 aren't present in Hamburg.

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Photo courtesy Kelley Gossett

The United States Olympic Committee pulled the plug on Boston 2024 on July 27, after Mayor Marty Walsh, facing mounting political pressure, announced he would not sign any agreement requiring the use of public money for the Games (despite doing just that a few months prior). In the three months since the collapse, the beleaguered bid has paid off its outstanding debts, new insights into former CEO Rich Davey’s job-searching habits have leaked out, and Los Angeles, which had been licking its chops through all the Boston bid’s trials and tribulations, snatched up the USOC’s vacated nomination.

Much has been made about No Boston Olympics co-chair Chris Dempsey’s next move and how the Brookline native will parlay his experience as the face of Olympic opposition in Boston. But Dempsey and fellow co-chair Kelley Gossett aren’t done talking about the 2024 Games. The pair headed to Germany last week, home of the Hamburg 2024 effort, and took part in a conference put on by Artur Brueckmann of “NOlympics Hamburg,” their overseas equivalent.

There are plenty of parallels between Boston and Hamburg, two northern port cities experiencing economic success. Swap the Charles River for the Elbe, and the Boston Common, the Stadtpark (sort of). But instead of our broken-down transportation system driving the conservation after a crippling winter onslaught, Hamburg’s concerns are concurrent with those of its country—most pressing, the Syrian refugee crisis. And as No Boston Olympics learned upon arrival in the Tor zur Welt, many of the tools they used to topple to Boston 2024 simply aren’t of much use in Hamburg.

“What was interesting was that every effort is different,” Gossett tells Boston magazine. “I think the press is less involved in Hamburg’s effort than the Hamburg people would probably like. And I think the press played a huge role in our dialogue and our debate here in Boston, social media as well, that is not currently a big tool in their toolbox over there. That was curious to us, just because that was such an important piece to the puzzle, if you will, to getting the message out and getting people to understand the IOC process.”

Germany’s National Olympic Committee (DOSB) chose Hamburg as its bid city for the 2024 Games in March, though a referendum will take place on November 29. Bid backers have little reason to worry, as Hamburg 2024 enjoys 63-percent support, according to a recent poll conducted on behalf of the DOSB. “We are very confident with regard to the referendum,” DOSB president Alfons Hörmann told Sports Business Daily.

Overall, the debate in Hamburg has been missing the same sort of meticulously collected public opinion data provided by the MassINC Polling Group and WBUR throughout Boston 2024’s brief existence. These monthly polls quantified the public’s unwillingness to buy in as bid organizers’ window of opportunity waned. “They did not have any kind of polling like we did here,” Gossett says. “They didn’t have that. So I think it’s curious how it’s going to play out.”

Serving as counterpart to Widett Circle—the Dorchester tract that Davey famously parroted was where you go when your “car got towed,” and home to the 22-business New Boston Food Market—is a run-down area of Hamburg, which bid organizers say will be revitalized with the construction of the Olympic Village, and all the infrastructure that would come with it. Sound familiar?

“Similar kind of battle cries that we’ve heard here were echoed over there as well, and seems to be a continuing theme of the Olympics right now, in this day and age,” Gossett says. Dempsey even reunited with Smith College professor and fervent Olympics opponent Andrew Zimbalist, his partner from the first and only televised debate between bid organizers and opposition.

At last week’s “Olympia Congress,” No Boston Olympics told NOlympics Hamburg to condense their wealth of information into more easily digestible soundbites. But despite a lack of polling data, an adequately skeptical press, and “#10PeopleOnTwitter,” Gossett isn’t too worried. She says the opposition has facts on their side.

“It’s just getting people informed, and getting them to understand the facts,” she says. “If people get educated on it, and they can get the word out, they ultimately will be successful.”