BOSTON (AP) — If there were an Olympic medal for acrimony, Boston would take the gold.
The debate over the city’s embattled bid to host the 2024 Summer Games has featured F-bombs at public hearings, shouting matches and online abuse in both directions.
Regardless of whether the bid advances, some say the venom and vitriol represent a new low in a city where political disagreement long has been a blood sport.
“This has been damaging to our discourse. It’s a wound to our civic morale,” said Ed Lyons, a Boston political activist whose arguments in favor of the Olympics have been met with profanity on social media.
“There’s no decorum. It’s all just so vicious,” he said. “I’m concerned that if it continues like this, I don’t know where we go next.”
Dismay at the tone of the debate cuts both ways.
Britni de la Cretaz, a social worker and member of No Boston 2024 — a spirited opposition movement — was at a recent public meeting in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood when a woman raising concerns about how the games might affect low-income residents was shouted down by a man who called her a “f—— piece of s—.”
No Boston 2024 condemned the hostile environment as “aggressive and threatening,” and de la Cretaz said she feared for her own safety.
“It makes for a really intimidating environment to voice how you’re feeling when you feel like you’re going to be attacked or heckled,” she said, adding that she’s had to block people on social media because they used nasty or abusive language.
Boston’s troubled bid got off to a rough start when skeptics questioned how much public money would be spent to bring the games to an already congested city, and it has foundered since.
Polls have shown local support at below 50 percent. Last week, U.S. Olympic Committee board member Angela Ruggiero said the USOC was still vetting the bid and that there was “no guarantee” the city would be put forward as the U.S. candidate — suggesting Boston could be ditched in favor of Los Angeles, which hosted the games in 1932 and 1984.
Boston organizers will update the USOC on June 30, and that could decide the fate of the bid. The deadline is Sept. 15 to submit a final bid to the International Olympic Committee, which will select the host city in 2017. Rome and Hamburg, Germany, also are declared bidders, and Paris and Budapest, Hungary, are expected to enter the race soon.
New revelations that a Boston Olympics likely would rely on substantial public funding touched off fresh squabbles. Boston Magazine obtained a copy of the presentation to the USOC showing the bid isn’t relying on taxpayer funding solely for security and infrastructure, as the organizers long insisted.
Inflaming all that is the massive bribery and corruption scandal engulfing FIFA, soccer’s world governing body. Boston 2024 cynics were quick to suggest the IOC may be cut from the same cloth.
Even so, the incivility is jarring — all the more so considering the debate centers on a global movement built around the concept of unity, said Ira Jackson, chairman of the Center for Civil Discourse at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.
“Our better angels call upon us, if we’re going to retain our sense of coherence and community, to work hard at being more civil,” he said.
“We don’t necessarily all have to sing ‘Kumbaya’ or play touch football together. But all of us need to listen to each other and understand one another’s fears.”
Instead, some have likened the tension to court-ordered public school desegregation in the 1970s, which touched off a decade and a half of rage and racial violence as 18,000 students were bused to schools outside their neighborhoods.
Is the atmosphere now too toxic for the Olympic torch to burn over Boston?
Corey Dinopoulos, a co-founder of the Boston 2024 organizing committee who got the bid rolling three years ago, calls the tone “kind of depressing” for a world-class city with a chance to showcase itself.
“The city needs to calm down,” he said. “People are expecting a lot from the organization. We’re trying to plan for the next 15 years and that doesn’t happen overnight. I think everyone needs some manners classes.”
But for games opponents like de la Cretaz, it’s about more than manners — it’s about the future.
“People are asking questions because they care about our city,” she said. “If they didn’t care about the city, they wouldn’t come to the meetings.”
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