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Harvard didn’t know extent of involvement in first Olympic bid

Left in the dark on Boston 2024’s plans

Aram Boghosian for The Globe/File

Harvard Stadium is among the university facilities that Olympic organizers are hoping to use for various events.

By Jon Chesto Globe Staff 

When the Boston 2024 partnership made its initial pitch to bring the Summer Games here, Harvard University was featured prominently, both for its brand-name cachet and for its athletic facilities. The university would host at least five competitions, the most of any institution, and a top administrator had a key role in the planning.

But Harvard says it was not aware of the extent to which Boston 2024 highlighted the university’s involvement when it submitted the bid to the US Olympic Committee.

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“We did not see the bid documents before they were made generally public,” Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal said, “and had never made any decisions or commitments regarding the potential use of any venues.”

The bid documents indicated that Harvard would host five sports — tennis, water polo, field hockey, fencing and aquatics, which includes swimming and diving — at its athletic complex in Allston and on adjacent land it owns.

It’s unclear which, if any, of those sports will remain hosted by the university in the next version of Boston 2024’s bid plan, expected to be unveiled by the end of the month.

Last week, the organization moved tennis to Harambee Park in Dorchester.

Meanwhile, Tufts University continues to be interested in bringing some aquatics events to its campus.

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There are other signs that Harvard’s relationship with Boston 2024 is not as strong as was advertised in the original bid.

Katie Lapp, Harvard’s executive vice president, has quietly stepped down from the Boston 2024 leadership roster. And Harvard president Drew Faust has made it clear that the school would not help with Olympic fund-raising.

Greater Boston’s heavy concentration of universities was one of Boston 2024’s biggest selling points to the US Olympic Committee. High-powered schools offer a range of athletic venues for competitions and for practicing, plus dorm rooms that could house journalists and other visitors.

The universities also offer fund-raising prowess, and their students could be a potent volunteer force.

But no private university, according to the bid documents that were made public in January, would have had a bigger role than Harvard.

Aside from the athletic competitions, Boston 2024 cited Harvard’s unparalleled $36 billion endowment as an example of how local institutions could help the Olympics group raise cash for the Games. The bid specifically mentions Lapp’s involvement on a Boston 2024 executive committee to boast of how much the university participated in the bid planning.

Harvard has much to offer the Boston bid. The university is one of Boston’s best-known brands, a school with a deep international reputation. There’s the telegenic campus, a camera-ready backdrop along the Charles River, and a globe-spanning alumni network of movers and shakers. Harvard also controls the Beacon Park Yard in Allston, one of the last prominent chunks of undeveloped property in Boston.

But after the bid documents became public, Faust tried to clarify Harvard’s role in the Olympics discussions by telling the Harvard Crimson student newspaper in February that the university would not help Boston 2024 with fund-raising. Harvard would encourage individuals to volunteer or otherwise participate in the Olympics, she said at the time, but wouldn’t allow the pursuit of the 2024 Summer Games to compromise its resources.

Neal said Harvard continues to discuss possible venue options with Boston 2024, although the school has not made any decisions or given any commitments with regard to specific venues.

Lapp, the senior Harvard administrator, was invited into Boston 2024’s fold last year, along with executives at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bentley University, and the University of Massachusetts. But when Boston 2024 released its first financial disclosure report earlier this month, only Bentley’s Gloria Larson and MIT’s Israel Ruiz remained.

Robert Caret of UMass accepted a job running the University of Maryland system, so his absence was expected. Neal said Lapp left the Boston 2024 leadership after the bid was submitted to the US Olympic Committee. He declined to provide an exact date of her departure.

Neal said she was involved with “early stage conceptual discussions” last year. “Since then, Boston 2024 has reorganized the committee structure to focus more on student involvement, which is not her area of focus,” he said.

Erin Murphy, chief operating officer for Boston 2024, said in a prepared statement that the group appreciates “the input that Katie Lapp provided in the first phase of the bid as we discussed engaging our world class public and private colleges and universities in this effort.”

Boston 2024 chairman Steve Pagliuca said Friday that the Olympics group remains in active discussions with Harvard about venues.

“I will be sitting down with [Faust] and all the folks at Harvard, and we’re looking at these plans and we’ll figure out what’s best for Harvard and what’s best for the Games,” he said.

Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College who has been a vocal critic of Boston's bid, called Harvard’s prominence in the original bid book “one more instance where the propaganda that appeared in the bid doesn’t turn out to be true.”

“Having a circus in town for 17 days is not what Harvard is all about,” he said. “It would be a lot of disruption to the Harvard campus, and probably a lot of expense with very little benefit.”

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

It is unclear which Harvard facilities, such as its 112-year-old stadium, would be available to host Olympic events.

Mark Arsenault of the Globe
staff contributed to this report.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow

him on Twitter @jonchesto.