Though the US Olympic Committee in January chose Boston to represent the nation in the chase for the 2024 Summer Games, there is “no guarantee” the USOC will stick with its choice this fall when the time comes to send a formal bid to the International Olympic Committee, a USOC member told the City Council on Monday.
“Right now the USOC is going through a similar vetting process to make sure Boston is the right city,” said Angela Ruggiero, a US women’s hockey team gold medalist and a member of the USOC and the IOC. “So there’s no guarantee Boston will be the city in September.”
The United States Olympic Committee faces a September deadline to formally nominate Boston to host the 2024 Games. Earlier this spring, the USOC adamantly denied an anonymously sourced report published in the Wall Street Journal that officials had spoken with Los Angeles and San Francisco about reviving earlier bids if a rapid surge in support did not materialize in Boston.
Ruggiero’s comments, at a council hearing on the city’s Olympic bid, would appear to be a blunt suggestion that the USOC does not intend to go forward with a Boston bid if public support does not improve.
“Right now we need the strong support of Boston,” Ruggiero said. “The USOC is hand-in-hand, we’re partnering. But we want Boston to succeed so we’re doing everything possible.”
Ruggiero added: “This city has to come together if you’re going to be successful. We need the public to come together, and we need elected officials to come together.”
A USOC spokesman responded to questions about Ruggiero’s comments with a statement saying, “We are 100 percent behind Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Boston can deliver a great Games. There is no truth whatsoever to the rumor that we have asked them to stand down, or that we are considering going to another city. We are working arm in arm with our partners Mayor Walsh and Boston 2024 to deliver the best possible bid for the city of Boston and the Olympic and Paralympic movements.”
The USOC chose Boston over San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., in a domestic competition to become the US bid city for the 2024 Games.
Ruggiero alluded to criticism that has undercut support for the effort.
“I love that democracy is alive and well in Boston,” Ruggiero said. “It’s good that we’re debating hard what the plan should look like, because what we get on the table will make sense for Boston and make sense for America.”
Councilors expressed a mix of concern and optimism as they pressed organizers of the bid about safeguards against cost overruns and potential displacement of residents by sporting venue construction. Councilor Michelle Wu said Boston’s charter prevents the city from writing a blank check to cover unexpected costs.
“We would have to vote,” she said. “It would have to be a specific amount.”
Representatives from the bid committee, Boston 2024, acknowledged some type of guarantee would be needed, but said it would not have to come from the city or state. A new model for the Olympics adopted by the International Olympic Committee is designed to make the Games more affordable. Financial guarantees could come from a private entity or through an insurance policy. Cost overruns could be mitigated by good planning.
“We’re working under the assumption that the city is not going to be contributing any tax dollars to venues, construction of the Games, or operation,” said Richard A. Davey, chief executive officer for Boston 2024. “Our goal, councilor, is to make sure you never have to take that vote.”
Councilor Tito Jackson pushed organizers about the potential displacement of residents, saying that construction for the 1996 Games in Atlanta eliminated some affordable housing.
“We need to work together to craft a plan on displacement and the affordable- and workforce-housing question,” Davey said. “We ultimately think the Olympics can add to and improve that.”
The hearing, called by City Council President Bill Linehan, was the first of four forums planned to review Boston’s bid. The topic Monday was the International Olympic Committee’s 2020 Agenda, which seeks to make the Games more affordable for host cities. The remaining three hearings have not been scheduled.
After the hearing, Davey was asked whether he thought there was any chance the USOC would nominate Los Angeles, a two-time Olympic host, instead of Boston.
“I don’t,” Davey said. “I don’t think there’s any chance.”