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Contrary to previous statements, Dorchester’s Harambee Park, not Harvard, would host Olympic and Paralympic tennis if Boston is selected as the host city of the 2024 Summer Games, according to bid organizers, yet another sign that Harvard’s relationship with the bid is evolving.
When the Boston 2024 Partnership submitted bid documents to the U.S. Olympic Committee in December, the plans indicated that Harvard and other local universities were set to play a leading role in the Games.
“We will open the doors of many of our prestigious colleges and universities within the greater Boston area, including Harvard and MIT, so that our guests from around the world can experience firsthand the thought leadership, breakthroughs, and innovation taking place within our classrooms, lecture halls, and labs each day,” bid documents read.
Those documents included plans for Harvard venues to host several Olympic and Paralympic events, including tennis. Feasibility studies within bid documents described how “senior administrative officials” of the University had participated in the bid’s planning process and had reviewed “preliminary venue access, use, and layout of the Harvard playing fields, Allston Landing, and Beacon Yards.” The documents also noted that Harvard Executive Vice President Katie N. Lapp was then a member of the partnership’s executive committee.
“Harvard has proposed to play a big role in 2024, and we’re excited about those possibilities,” Boston 2024 Partnership chief executive officer Richard A. Davey added in an interview this winter.
Recent events, however, have brought those bid documents under scrutiny as opponents of the Boston 2024 effort question if bid organizers overstated Harvard’s commitment. Lapp is no longer affiliated with the bid, University President Drew G. Faust has made clear that she will not help with fundraising, and University spokesperson Jeff Neal has said that Harvard did not view bid documents before their public release and has “never made any decisions or commitments regarding the potential use of any venues.”
The tennis switch, despite a statement in Boston 2024 bid documents that “no specific permitting hurdles are anticipated” in gaining access to Harvard playing fields, has added to those concerns. Bid organizers are expected to announce additional venue locations in the next few weeks.
“It’s very clear that Harvard has been open to negotiations and open to discussions as any good neighbor would, but they have not made any financial commitments and seem to be very hesitant to make any real estate or site venue commitments,” said Chris Dempsey, who co-chairs the volunteer organization No Boston Olympics, which opposes the bid. “And that just really contrasts with the way that Boston 2024 described their involvement—it says more about Boston 2024 and their sort of eagerness to play with the truth.”
In a March letter to the editor in The Crimson, Neal wrote that the University is open to discussing participation in the Olympic effort, but only if such involvement does not detract from its academic mission.
“Any participation by Harvard must remain aligned with our academic mission and long-term planning goals,” Neal wrote. “No Harvard facilities, institutional funds, or fundraising efforts will be diverted away from those goals for purposes related to the Olympics.”
Dempsey said his organization will “scrutinize” the commitments between the bid and local universities and is looking for both Harvard and Boston 2024 to clarify their relationship.
“Boston 2024 has been somewhat reckless with their approach to planning their event, and you see that when institutions like Harvard that are—that were—at least critical parts of the bid are wary about their inclusion,” Dempsey said. “If they only have loose commitments from the universities and the universities decide to pull back, it could be taxpayers that could be left holding the bag.”
The Boston 2024 Partnership did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
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