USOC pleased with changes to Boston Olympics bid
Senior officials from the United States Olympic Committee told organizers of Boston’s Olympics effort on Wednesday that they are encouraged by the local group’s revisions to its bid but want to see public support increase among Boston residents, people familiar with the proceedings said.
USOC executives huddled locally with the leadership of Boston 2024 at a series of in-person meetings much of the day, reviewing financing figures for two of the largest and most challenging projects associated with the Games: a temporary Olympic stadium at Widett Circle and an athletes village at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
The outcome of the visit by the USOC officials, coming days ahead of Tuesday’s quarterly USOC board of directors meeting in Redwood City, Calif., would appear to defuse speculation that the board would yank the bid next week. In recent days, two prominent media figures who cover the Olympics, Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune and Alan Abrahamson of 3 Wire Sports, called on the USOC to pull the plug and either sit out the 2024 Olympic cycle or substitute two-time Summer Games host Los Angeles.
“They’re recommitting based on what they’ve seen today,” said one of the people familiar with the process, speaking of the USOC leaders. “It looks like they’re ready to commit, as long as we can show significant improvement by September, to give us a reprieve until then.”
However, the USOC leaders said they want to see “a positive trend” in polling numbers for the bid after the new plan comes out. Boston 2024 has been polling underwater for months, with an early June WBUR poll pegging statewide support at 39 percent.
Wednesday’s meeting included USOC chairman Larry Probst, chief executive Scott Blackmun, chief bid and protocol officer Christopher Sullivan, and chief communications officer Patrick Sandusky.
The USOC faces a September deadline to formally nominate a bid city to compete internationally for the 2024 Summer Games, and it is hard to image a Boston bid going forward if the new venue plan is widely panned.
That sets up a major task for Boston 2024: arresting the slide in public opinion around the Games, and working over the summer months to demonstrate evidence of growing enthusiasm.
The USOC conducted its own private poll this week among Boston residents, gauging general opinion of the Games as well as more specific questions about its potential impact on public finances, infrastructure, and transportation.
Boston 2024 has already disclosed a number of the smaller venues under the new plan, and has proposed more events outside of Boston to win allies in other parts of the state. Sailing, for instance, would be in Buzzards Bay off New Bedford; beach volleyball has been pitched for Quincy and handball in Worcester. The moves make the Games less compact, though planners insist the vast majority of events will be proposed in and around Boston.
Boston 2024 has promised to publicly release its new plan in full by Tuesday, the day local Olympic planners will present the plans privately to the USOC board in California.
USOC representatives told the Boston team on Wednesday that they expect the board would digest the new plan and provide feedback to Boston 2024 in coming weeks.
Probst and Boston 2024 officials Steve Pagliuca, the committee’s chairman, and Rich Davey, its chief executive, met separately at City Hall with Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who has been supportive of the effort.
Significant hurdles remain on the home front for Boston 2024, including a need to persuade a skeptical Beacon Hill, where many policy makers felt that the planning process spun out of their control. Governor Charlie Baker warned last month that the local group needed to move swiftly to produce a detailed plan that could be vetted by the public. A consultant hired by state officials to review the new plan is on the job, collecting information from Boston 2024.
The USOC chose Boston in January as the US bid city, putting its trust in Boston to bring the Summer Games back to the United States for the first time since 1996, when they were held in Atlanta. The bid committee has been distracted by a number of controversies, including record snowfalls that shook the region’s confidence in its transit system and other infrastructure, while undergoing relentless attacks by critics.
The fate of the bid rests on how the key lawmakers, independent experts, and the general public react to the new venue plan, which is expected to include a more detailed budget for the Games as well as analysis of the potential benefits and potential risks of hosting the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee will choose the 2024 host in a vote scheduled for 2017 in Lima.
Paris, Rome, Hamburg, and Budapest could be on the IOC ballot.
Neither Boston 2024 nor the USOC would comment on Wednesday’s meetings.