Good luck to Boston. Good news for us.
The Bay Area’s bid to stage the 2024 Summer Olympics was a loser Thursday. Worse things could have happened. Many worse things.
When the United States Olympic Committee decided that Boston would move forward as the candidate city to host the Summer Games a decade from now, count me among those who was neither surprised nor upset.
As I have written previously — and please excuse me for spraining my shoulder while patting myself on the back — the San Francisco organizers were well-meaning in their attempt to land the 2024 Games. But they were on fool’s mission.
Let’s start with the fact that San Francisco tried to do too much of the heavy lifting by itself. The organizers were headed by Giants executive Larry Baer, with Mayor Ed Lee as the bid’s political face. San Francisco, as a city, is not capable of playing host to an Olympics on its lonesome. The city isn’t big enough, either in square mileage or population. Four out of five people in the Bay Area live somewhere else. Any bid by “San Francisco” to host the Olympics must involve the entire Bay Area.
This latest plan supposedly did. But a closer look at the venue map revealed that San Francisco was hoarding the glamour events. San Jose, the region’s largest city, was saddled with fringe sports such as wrestling and judo. Oakland, a more fierce sports hotbed than San Francisco, was scheduled for … oval track cycling. Most of the sexy sports with sizzle — gymnastics, basketball, beach volleyball — were set for San Francisco. That was no way to gain citizen support from the entire Bay Area.
Building such support was always going to be problematic, anyway. Opposition groups that questioned the Games package had already surfaced in San Francisco. There was never a clear notion of where the money would come from to pay for the Games. It could have been a financial boondoggle, as has occurred with other Olympic cities. One person familiar with the Bay Area bid told me that the hope was this: If the Bay Area received the USOC’s approval, a wave of public excitement would be created across Northern California. This would generate political enthusiasm as well as money from local corporations and sponsors.
We’ll never know if that would have happened. I’m dubious. Most of the Bay Area’s large corporations are in Silicon Valley. And of any Bay Area city, San Jose probably has the closest connections with the USOC. San Jose served as the Team USA processing center for the 2008 Summer Games, with all American athletes stopping in town to receive their team gear and instructional briefings en route to Beijing. San Jose played host to the 2012 USA Olympic gymnastics trials and will do so again in 2016, another bond with the USOC. Yet no one from San Jose was asked to play a key role in the Bay Area 2024 bid.
And in terms of the East Bay … well, there was that odd last-minute announcement by local organizers to drop the original proposal for a temporary “pop-up” main Olympic stadium in Brisbane — and instead build a permanent stadium in Oakland that also could serve as the Raiders’ long-term home.
Know what? That notion had possibilities. It certainly would have spread around the sizzle. But the plan should have surfaced a year or two ago with more details finalized, rather than being sprung on the USOC at the final hour as a potential solution. If Oakland was to play such a critical role in the package, shouldn’t someone from that city have also been at the organizing forefront? The Bay Area 2024 organizers said Thursday that the Oakland stadium option had been percolating for several months, behind the scenes. Fine. The way it rolled out this week, it still looked like desperation.
To be honest, Oakland officials should be glad the idea collapsed. The notion of a primary Olympic venue doubling as a potential NFL stadium was attempted in a previous Bay Area Olympic bid — and failed miserably. It even helped push the 49ers out of San Francisco.
In case you’ve forgotten: Back in 2006, Bay Area organizers seeking the 2016 Summer Games formulated their bid around a new 49ers stadium at Hunter’s Point. But the 49ers had problems with the idea, especially after being asked to help pay for the project, and felt they were being ramrodded into accepting the plan. The 49ers also feared that if the stadium plan was a key part of the Bay Area bid but then fell through, the team would be blamed for “losing the Olympics” for San Francisco. So the York family picked up the phone and called Santa Clara. The Bay Area 2016 bid was withdrawn soon thereafter.
True, this time might have been different. Maybe the proposed Oakland stadium for the 2024 Games would have taken a more positive path and created a new home for the Raiders. But it also might have driven the A’s out of Oakland. The baseball team can break its current 10-year lease if a new Raiders’ stadium is built on the current Coliseum site. Also, it’s unclear if an Olympic project would have sabotaged the “Coliseum City” project that’s currently on the table and being pursued by a San Diego financier. Better for Oakland to not be rushed into an Olympic minefield with unknown consequences.
The vision of a Bay Area Games really is a cool one. Northern California athletes populate Olympic teams in great numbers. Local viewership of the Games is always high. The sight of Olympic sailing on the Bay, a marathon across the bridges and mountain biking in Marin County or the Santa Cruz Mountains would have been pretty sweet. But you seriously must wonder if any group of local Olympic organizers, now or in the future, can successfully bring together so many disparate cities and special interests to create a winning bid for the Games.
A melancholy thought, that. But no tears necessary. Even if the Bay Area bid had been selected this time by the USOC, so many hurdles still need to be crossed, as Boston will discover. It now must compete with other international cities such as Berlin, Rome, Paris and Johannesburg to land the 2024 Games. Wherever they land, we’ll be watching on television from the Bay Area.
And on balance, better off for it.