USOC wants stronger backing from Walsh, Baker on Olympic bid
The US Olympic Committee is pressing Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Martin J. Walsh to put more of their political capital behind Boston’s struggling bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, but neither politician appears ready to satisfy the USOC, according to a person close to the bid process.
With USOC members set to discuss Boston’s status at a board meeting Monday, the standoff raises new questions about the fate of a bid already in peril due to low poll numbers.
USOC members want the popular governor to endorse the bid, the person close to the process said, which could breathe new life and credibility into the city’s effort.
The board is also pressuring Walsh, an Olympic backer, to announce that he will sign the host city contract required by the International Olympic Committee, which would put city taxpayers on the hook if the Games ran short of money or suffered cost overruns, the person said.
Baker is expected to call into the USOC meeting. A Baker adviser said Saturday that the governor’s message to USOC would be that he would have no news for them until he reviewed the findings of the Brattle Group, a consultant the state hired to vet the Olympic plan released a month ago by Boston 2024, the local Olympic bid committee.
Baker has said he expects the consulting report next month.
“I get the fact that everybody would love us to just sort of, you know, ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ today,” Baker said in a press conference Friday.
For Walsh, the host city guarantee is a difficult political issue. Olympic opponents have built their campaign against the Games around the guarantee, arguing that taxpayers should not be put at risk for an international sports festival.
Walsh has said he wants to be sure the taxpayers would be protected from loss before he agrees to sign the agreement.
Boston 2024 has promised to protect the city through conservative budgeting and a wide-ranging insurance package. The bid committee released details about its insurance plan last week.
The plan calls for multiple policies providing hundreds of millions of dollars in coverage for revenue losses due to a disaster, terrorism, declining ticket revenue, loss of sponsors, and other risks.
It said contractors would be required to have insurance, including surety bonds, which would compel an insurer to pay to finish a project if the contractor falters.
The larger development projects could have capital replacement insurance, which would pay to keep a project going if funding fell through.
The committee’s $4.6 billion Olympic operating budget accounts for $128 million in insurance premiums.
But the complex insurance plan is only days old and Walsh is unlikely to back it before a thorough vetting by the city’s in-house Olympics analyst, and perhaps outside consultants.
The USOC believes any bid for the Games would be substantially weaker if a host city refused to guarantee to deliver the Games as promised.
The guarantee is generally a difficult political issue in the United States, where government support for the Olympics is limited.
A USOC spokesman declined to comment Saturday.
A month ago, speculation mounted ahead of the USOC’s quarterly meeting that the Boston bid might be pulled, mostly due to poll numbers languishing in the low 40s.
Shortly before the meeting, USOC leaders, including chairman Larry Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun, came to Boston to view details of Boston 2024’s new Olympic plan, developed under the leadership of new bid chairman Steve Pagliuca, who took over the committee in May.
The USOC members praised the plan, which would give rise to two new Boston neighborhoods at Widett Circle and Columbia Point.
The bid survived the board meeting, though the USOC said it wanted to see poll numbers improve.
One month later, public polls are not dramatically different.
The USOC faces a September deadline to formally nominate a bid city to compete internationally for the 2024 Summer Games.
Speculation that the USOC would drop Boston for two-time Olympic host Los Angeles has dogged the Boston bid for months, despite strong denials from the Olympic committee.
The IOC will choose the 2024 host in a vote scheduled for 2017 in Lima.
The US has not hosted a Summer Games since 1996, in Atlanta.