Pursuing an Olympic bid is — as they’ll tell you in Chicago or New York or Atlanta — not for the faint of heart. It’s for cities with a clear focus and a deep pocketbook. And while the domestic bid process will likely change for the 2024 Summer Games, on which Boston is setting its sights, the focus and planning and vision needed will not.
Those are crucial.
“I would say that the cities that have been more successful had a vision of what the Games mean to it,” said Paul George, who was vice president of the US Olympic Committee for eight years and served on two International Olympic Committee commissions, including one that evaluated cities for selection.
“I remember Mayor Valentino Castellani, the mayor of Torino at the time, saying to me, ‘I bid on the Olympic Games to take a 19th-century city and turn it into a 21st-century city.’ He had a vision of what the Games could do.”
The Massachusetts Senate approved a bill on July 30 that would study the feasibility of bringing the Olympics to the Commonwealth, with the study expected to be completed by March. That’s right around the time the USOC expects to narrow its list of candidates in advance of potentially nominating a city.
So, why exactly does Boston want the Games? And why would the USOC and IOC choose Boston?
“The first thing that the bid committee will need is a competitive concept,” said Michael Kontos, who advised the IOC on Salt Lake City bid issues and who was involved with Chicago’s 2016 bid as a consultant. “That has both a technical aspect and an emotional one.”
The technical aspect covers how the Games are operated — that the experience for the competitors is a good one. As Kontos said, it’s like putting on “26 world championships at once using the same resources. It’s a very complicated event.”
To even merit consideration, the proposal must have an emotional aspect.
“When you boil it down, it’s the answers to the question ‘why,’ ” Kontos said. “It’s, why does it make sense for the Olympic movement? Why does it make sense for Boston? These are two very important questions to start out with.”
The Olympics need to fit with where the city wants to go, need to fit with the city’s long-term plan, as Kontos said. London, for example, had plans to rehabilitate the East End through hosting the 2012 Summer Games.
“The IOC and indeed the US Olympic Committee cares a great deal about the legacy aspect of it, not only the venues for future athletic endeavors, but also that it works for a city, that it works afterwards for a city,” George said.
“You want it to be successful. You don’t want it to be a burden to the taxpayers, to the city.”
Bids must address 18 to 20 criteria that the evaluation commissions take into consideration, ranging from political support to financial support to venues to transportation to accommodations to environmental issues. The USOC consults with cities on those criteria as they determine whether they want to go forward with a bid.
And then there’s the money.
While nothing associated with the Olympics is inexpensive — operating budgets for the three cities bidding for the 2020 Summer Games (Istanbul, Madrid, and Tokyo) are in the billions — the USOC is aiming to make at least the first steps less onerous and expensive for domestic bids.
Chicago spent an estimated $10 million getting through the domestic bid process for the 2016 Games, and an estimated $100 million getting through the international bid process, where the city was rejected in favor of Rio de Janeiro.
“The USOC has said that they would like to make the cost go down for the cities,” George said. “It’s historically been an expensive process . . . It’s a marathon.”
Another key component is support. That’s governmental support. That’s community support. While Boston might not be like Chicago, where Mayor Richard Daley championed the effort, a green light from the new mayor would be crucial.
“We are currently discussing internally whether or not we want to bid for the 2024 Games,” said Patrick Sandusky, the USOC’s chief communication and public affairs officer. “[The IOC] sent out letters to the largest cities in America and asked them if they were interested; Let us know, and we can start working through some of the technical aspects of what a Games would entail.”
Sandusky added, “We want to give each city the opportunity to just kick the tires, see if they’re interested without having to make a firm commitment.”
The USOC has not put forth an American city for selection since bidding for the 2012 (New York) and 2016 Games.
The Summer Olympics have not been held in the United States since Atlanta in 1996. Salt Lake City in 2002 was the last Winter Games held domestically.
Could Boston be next? There is a necessary component that the city has in spades.
“It is, very importantly, renowned for its sport-loving culture,” said Kontos. “Some cities have the infrastructure and the iconic sites, but they just are lacking that spirit around sport — and Boston surely has it.”