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The Olympic Games continue to stray farther and farther from the democratic roots of its birthplace.
Last week, Mayor Marty Walsh signed an agreement with the United States Olympic Committee that bans Boston city employees from speaking out against the Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee, and the USOC. This ban was instituted following the USOC’s selection of Boston as its official bid city for the 2024 Summer Games.
The motivation behind the ban is clear: The IOC, which will select the 2024 Olympic city in 2017, has emphasized the need for local support as a necessary parameter for hosting the Games. In a transparent attempt to make its bid more appealing, the USOC and Mayor Walsh have caved to the ludicrous demands of the IOC.
This ban represents nothing short of an infringement of the basic First Amendment rights guaranteed to all Americans; further, it is a continuation of the disturbing trend toward the subversion of local opinion and laws during the Olympic selection process.
This is wrong. Local laws need to come before anything required or wanted by the IOC—neither Boston nor any other perspective Olympics city should be bullied into unlawful actions simply for the sake of appeasing the IOC. And there is little doubt that the ban is unlawful: Legal experts have been outspoken about the infringements of the city employees’ rights of free speech.
While Mayor Walsh has stated that he will not limit the free speech of employees—effectively rendering the ban toothless and mute—the ban nevertheless highlights the opaque nature of the Boston’s Olympic bid, one that has often left local residents without a voice in the matter. Most notably, Mayor Walsh has ruled out a referendum on the matter, despite the overwhelming support for one. As we have previously noted, the people of Boston bear the burden of the Games, not only for three weeks in July and August of 2024, but also for the preparation before the Games and the cleanups and deficits after. Despite being a source of tremendous pride, hosting the Games has many downsides, which can include unforeseen costs, construction, and diverted attention from other, more important, public needs. It is the people of Boston who will be impacted most from hosting the Olympic Games, and it is the people of Boston who deserve most to have a say in the process.
One year ago, Marty Walsh assumed the Mayor’s Office with promises of transparency. Just recently, he followed upon those promises with further assurances to maintain a transparent Olympic bid process—he points to the scheduled public forums and release of the bid specifics as examples. However, the city remains divided on the costs and benefits of hosting the Olympics. At a bare minimum, people need to be able to speak their minds freely, without fear of repercussions. The ban signed by Mayor Walsh is a repudiation of both his own word and those of the Framers.
All Bostonians—citizens of a free and democratic city—including those who work for the city, deserve to have a say in whether their city hosts the 2024 Summer Games. A repeal of the ban and the opening of public discussion would be a proper first step.
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