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Debate over bidding for Olympics resonating the loudest in Boston

Ask the average resident of Los Angeles about the city’s bid for the 2024 Olympics, and you may get a shrug — bidding for the Summer Games is a routine part of life in Southern California, like sunshine and surfers off Malibu Beach.

“We’re a lot more worried about rain and drought in California right now,” said Michael Madrid, a California political consultant.

Of the four US cities vying to host the 2024 Olympics, Boston — the city with the least recent history bidding for the Games — has seen the most intense public debate. An opposition group has formed and the city’s Olympic future has been the topic of ongoing commentary and argument on social media and the opinion pages of local newspapers.


“The noisiest city is Boston,” agreed Olympic site selection specialist Rob Livingstone, a Canadian who runs GamesBids.com, a website that tracks Olympic bids.

Representatives from the bid cities — which also include San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — will make presentations to the US Olympic Committee this month. The committee is expected to decide soon which city — if any — will be its nominee in the worldwide competition for the 2024 Games. The USOC does not bid for every Olympics, but many experts are confident the committee will back a US city for 2024.

While each of Boston’s competitors have been through the application process in recent years, Boston’s last serious flirtation with the Olympics seems to have come in 1977, when Mayor Kevin White told the USOC that the city intended to apply for 1984 Games.

“We’ve got our oar in the water and we’re taking a look at it,” the director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority told the Globe at the time.

The city’s oar barely had time to get wet: White dropped the idea after five weeks, saying the city lacked a suitable Olympic stadium and did not want to build one.


Los Angeles, by contrast, has hosted the Olympics twice and made a habit of bidding just about every time the Games are available.

A few years after the city hosted for the first time, in 1932, civic leaders founded a permanent sports organization that helped prepare 10 Olympic bids from 1948 to 1984. The USOC nominated Los Angeles to compete for the 1976 Olympics, won by Montreal, and the 1980 Games, which went to Moscow.

Los Angeles finally hosted its second Olympics in 1984, pioneering a low-cost, privately funded event that is still the model for US Olympic bids.

The city went on to bid unsuccessfully for the 2012 and 2016 Games. The USOC announced in 2011 that there would be no US bid for the 2020 Olympics, which were ultimately awarded to Tokyo.

Los Angeles’s long Olympic résumé is an advantage in building public support for another bid, said Madrid, the political consultant.

“It is one of the few cities about which nobody would think: ‘Can they handle the Games or not?’ ” he said. While hosting the Olympics can be “a very expensive, massive, multi-year undertaking that can go horribly wrong — as many cities have found out — I don’t think LA’s city leaders have a burden to overcome to convince people that we can pull it off and pull it off well.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Casey Wasserman, grandson of a legendary Hollywood studio executive, Lew Wasserman, are leading the 2024 effort.


Four hundred miles north, a high-powered group of San Francisco business and sports leaders — including San Francisco Giants president Larry Baer and swimmer Anne Warner Cribbs, a gold medalist from the 1960 Rome Games — are working on the Bay area’s fourth effort to win the Olympics. San Francisco pursued the 2008 Games, for which the USOC did not bid, as well as the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

The latest effort generated little news coverage through the fall, but Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for the San Francisco 2024 group, said attention and news coverage have ramped up over the past few weeks. San Francisco’s mayor, Ed Lee, is on board, and the San Francisco Chronicle editorial page last month gave organizers a tentative thumbs-up, saying the framework of the bid was “very encouraging.”

That framework is similar to what Boston 2024 has proposed: a temporary Olympic stadium that can be removed after the Games, maximum use of existing sports venues, and a pledge not to ask for public money, outside of what would be spent for permanent transportation improvements.

“Obviously there has been some grumbling, but by-and-large people in the Bay area are used to having the population swell on occasion for big events,” Ballard said.

San Francisco hosted the America’s Cup boating race in 2013, and will host Super Bowl 50 in 2016.

Opposition in San Francisco has been light, said Jason McDaniel, professor of political science at San Francisco State University, though that could change as more details emerge.


“Right now the city is very much in support of the mayor but the politics of development and building are precarious,” McDaniel said. “It doesn’t take much for organized resistance to happen here.”

In Washington, the 2024 Olympic bid is led by sports and business heavyweights such as Ted Leonsis, head of the company that owns the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the NHL’s Washington Capitals, and the Verizon Center where both teams play; former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue; and Sheila Johnson, president of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and a founder of the BET Network.

Washington made a pitch for the 2012 Games, but did not win the backing of the USOC.

Lisa Delpy Neirotti, an Olympic specialist at George Washington University, which is in the District of Columbia, said DC 2024 has received significant news coverage this year, but has not yet generated much opposition.

“Being disturbed with road closures, things like that, is pretty common here,” she said. “I think maybe the people in this community are just immune to it.”

Washington’s Olympic organizers, like their counterparts in Boston, have been criticized for doing much Olympic planning out of the public eye. A Washington Business Journal editor in a column last month blasted D.C. organizers for being overly secretive.

“This is not national security, folks,” the Journal wrote. “This is the Olympics.”

Sensitive to criticism about transparency, Boston 2024 officials this week announced an online sign-up for people interested in joining an advisory group that would meet monthly, in public, with the Boston 2024 team, beginning in January, if the city wins a nod from the USOC.


Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.