John Fish says its a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to help try and bring the Olympics to Boston (ATR)
(ATR) Boston 2024 chairman John Fish believes Boston needs to “play its own hand” during the bid process.
Fish sat down with Around the Rings
on Jan. 21 before the bid’s first public meeting to rally support, two weeks after Boston won the 2024 United States host city nomination.
Boston won the nomination over Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
Fish is the chairman of Suffolk Construction, one of the largest companies in Boston, will give his “relentless discipline” and full effort to the bid over the next two years.
The interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Around the Rings
: Why did you get involved in bringing the Olympics to Boston?
: Obviously, there’s a professional point of view, but from a personal point of view - and I say this with a sense of pride - I’m a severe dyslexic. I grew up with a learning disability in school, had a very challenging time, and I was relatively good in athletics. It was the only thing I enjoyed and was capable of doing in a way that made me proud.
As I progressed into the ninth grade, learning to read and write and moving forward, athletics gave me the confidence to not be bashful in the classroom, to ask the stupid question, and to not feel that I couldn't do what everyone else was doing. It was a defining moment for me at prep school, one that turned my life around. I met a football coach who put his arm around me freshman year who told me I could do it. I’ll never forget that period of my life; it was really transformational for me.
What I witnessed at that point in time, at a young age, was the power of sport. I’ve taken that with me throughout my life. When this opportunity came forward, it’s once in a lifetime and to be involved with the personalities and the different countries, it really touched me. If we could bring [the Games] back to the United States of America, to the great city of Boston, it’ll be the crowning moment of my life.
: At what point did you decide to launch a bid for Boston? What triggered it?
: I got a call from Dan O’Connell, and he said these two young gentlemen - Cory Dinopoulos and Eric Reddy - came to see him. They filed an application with the USOC, and they received contact from the USOC and they didn’t know what to do with that. They were afraid they wouldn’t be taken seriously because they’re not engaged with the Boston government or business.
They called me, because I was chairing a business organization that represented all the business in the commonwealth. He sat down with me, and we decided to go for it. Nine months prior, there were rumors in the street that we were doing this. The more I thought of it, the more I realized that this would be the first time we were able to talk about a vision and the future – not so much my future, but the next generation’s future. I believe that this is the most transformative opportunity we will ever have in the city of Boston’s lifetime.
The night we were rewarded the project, we got a call from a reporter, and he told us that this is the biggest news he’s ever heard of in the city of Boston. When you think about it, to have the opportunity to host the world's most prominent athletic event in our city is unbelievable.
Boston (Getty Images)
: Why do you think that Boston can succeed when other cities in the United States, such as New York and Los Angeles, have failed recently?
: I believe that we can provide the athletes and the IOC a wonderful, wonderful experience. Both prior to the games themselves, since we have so many universities to invite them in and share their facilities and resources, and during the games, the hospitality we offer here, and in the post-Games, we would really like to see what we can do about getting more involved in the academic side of the athletic equation. Our college university presidents are extremely interested in getting involved with this. How do we leverage our intellectual capital to provide an opportunity for athletes?
The second thing is when you think of the role universities can play, in the [Olympic Agenda] 2020 report that just came out, you talk about existing facilities and sustainable games, I think the idea of leveraging the resources that we have at these universities – I wouldn’t be surprised if 60, 65 percent of our facilities at Harvard, MIT, Boston College, etc. are used for hosting purposes. That gives us a big leg up over other countries, we hope. Finally, the overall 2020 report, if you think about it, asks how to collectively work with the USOC and the IOC to interpret that to provide the best athlete experience. That’s what we need to worry about – how do we create that memorable experience for the athlete, their families and the IOC themselves?
We want Boston to become the Olympic park. That’s important. It will be the most walkable games in the history of the modern Olympics. 28 out of the 32 venues will be within a 6km radius. There isn’t one venue that will be more than 10 minutes transit time. Also, one thing I want to share with you is dialogue with Larry Summers, an academic and the former president of Harvard at one time. He was asking if we can partner with the USOC and engage in dialogue and figure out the cost-benefit analysis of this new model, and if we can solve this equation, can we implement that as a sort of a discipline approach to hosting the Games in the future? To me, it’s about thinking big and bold, and I feel that based on our resources and passion for sports, we have a nice proposition for the world.
: Will the bid be your main focus over the next few years?
: Yes, it is extremely important to me. I’ve beefed up the management at my organization, I’ve resigned from three boards already, and I intend to resign from two more in the next week or so to dedicate my time to bringing the Games back to the United States of America.
As a team, we know this will require a tremendous amount of effort. I think the word I use with my team is relentless discipline, blocking and tackling, and every day is a new day. As a community we need to take advantage of every second, every minute, every hour, every day and every month going forward. If we have that mentality, we can put a great bid in. I feel confident with our team.
: What do you think the biggest challenges will be? Where do you think Boston stacks up against some of the competitors?
: You know, it’s interesting. The names that we hear [in the 2024 race] are Paris, France or Hamburg or Berlin, Germany or [South] Africa or Rome. Those are all spectacular cities, and each city has its own value proposition and uniqueness. Boston just has to play its own hand. I don’t think we can worry about what other people are doing. We just need to stay focused on what Boston is all about, and how do we make sure that we do everything we possibly can to make sure we’re seen in a positive light. That’s what our focus is on, and at the end of the day, if we focus on the structure, the process, and the discipline, we’ll get there.
John Fish addressing Boston citizens at the bid's first public meeting (ATR)
: The process in what you guys went through to get to this point was a little unique, different than other bids in the past. How do you feel that the USOC has prepared you to succeed on a world stage?
: The experience we’ve had over the last 14 months has been remarkable, and it’s brought our team in Boston together like I’d never believe. It’s brought us together with the city government in a thoughtful way, as well as the universities. All of these institutions are working together, and we haven’t seen that for a long time in Boston.
I also think that approach that the USOC has taken, in putting L.A., San Francisco, and D.C. together, was great competition, and I think that caused our bid to even be better. We were listening to some things going on in D.C. through the grapevine, and we heard of things out west, and we couldn’t take anything for granted. That forced every community and bid city to put the best foot forward.
At the end of the day, the beneficiary of that are the United States, the U.S. Olympic Team, and Boston for being selected as bid city.
Interview conducted by Ed Hula III and Aaron Bauer
Transcribed by Andrew Murrell
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