USOC, Boston organizers halt bid to host Olympics
Move comes after Walsh balks at guarantee to cover overruns
Boston’s improbable bid to host the 2024 Summer Games collapsed Monday after seven months and millions of dollars spent, ending a tumultuous effort racked by acrimonious debate, public relations blunders, and limited public support.
Bid organizers and the US Olympic Committee jointly agreed to pull the bid after Mayor Martin J. Walsh declared at a hastily scheduled news conference that he was not yet ready to put city taxpayers on the hook for any costs related to the Games if local Olympic organizers ran out of money.
Anticipation that the bid could unravel had been building steadily for months, because of low public support. Over the weekend, the Globe reported that the USOC was pressing Walsh to guarantee that the city would be the final backstop for Olympic cost overruns or revenue shortfalls, which raised new questions about the long-term fate of the bid.
“I cannot commit to putting the taxpayers at risk,’’ Walsh said at the news conference. “If committing to sign a guarantee today is what’s required to move forward, then Boston is no longer pursuing the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
With the USOC scheduled to discuss the Boston bid Monday, Walsh’s news conference seemed designed to preempt a decision from Olympic officials to dump the city.
The USOC turned immediately to finding a new bidder for the 2024 Summer Games, with two-time host Los Angeles the most likely contender. The death of the Boston Olympic effort may also lift the fortunes of a potential 2024 bid from Toronto, which just finished hosting the Pan Am Games.
“The USOC would very much like to see an American city host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024,” Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the USOC, said in a statement. “We will immediately begin to explore whether we can do so on a basis consistent with our guiding principles, to which we remain firmly committed.”
Hours before the Boston effort crumbled, Governor Charlie Baker told the USOC that he would remain neutral on the bid until a state consultant, the Brattle Group, finished an analysis of the proposal from the bid committee, Boston 2024.
Baker later parried a series of questions from reporters Monday afternoon, careful not to apportion blame for the bid’s demise, or directly answer a query about whether he was more disappointed or relieved.
“I’m not going to question whatever decision the USOC makes,” Baker said. The Brattle report, due in August, will be made public, he said. The state will then get a chance to see how good or bad an idea it may have been.
An opposition group, No Boston Olympics, celebrated the termination of the bid. “We are a city with an important past and a bright future,” the group said.
“We got that way by thinking big, but also thinking smart. We need to move forward as a city, and today’s decision allows us to do that on our own terms, not the terms of the USOC or the [International Olympic Committee]. We’re better off for having passed on Boston 2024.”
A group led by former gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuk said it would drop the campaign to put a question on the 2016 ballot that would have banned state aid for the Olympic bid.
Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, an unpaid member of the Boston 2024 board, sounded his disappointment in a Globe interview Monday. “There are a lot of things you have to put together for the Olympics,” he said. “Reality is that I really don’t really understand the reason why they already checked us off. Hopefully one day it happens.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump also voiced an opinion, taking to Twitter to criticize Walsh, with whom he has clashed recently.
Boston's Mayor Walsh wasted a lot of time and money on going for the Olympics, and then he gave up. I don't want him negotiating for me!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2015
The USOC faces a September deadline to name a US bid city. The IOC will choose the 2024 host in 2017.
With Boston out, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles expressed interest in resuming a bid for the Games.
“I continue to believe that Los Angeles is the ideal Olympic city and we have always supported the USOC in their effort to return the Games to the United States,” he said in a statement. “I would be happy to engage in discussions with the USOC about how to present the strongest and most fiscally responsible bid on behalf of our city and nation.”
Los Angeles hosted the Summer Games in 1932 and 1984, and was among three cities Boston beat in January to become the US representative in the international contest for the 2024 Olympics.
Local bid chairman Steve Pagliuca said in a statement that the “Boston 2024 Partnership will offer our support and the extensive knowledge we have gained in developing our Bid 2.0 to any American city that may choose to participate in the 2024 bidding process going forward.”
Supporters of a Boston Games were left to hunt Monday for silver linings in the bid’s demise.
Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford, who had hoped that Olympic sailing would put his city on the international stage, argued that even being named as a potential venue had attracted recreational boaters to Buzzards Bay.
“It hasn’t cost New Bedford a nickel and we’ve gotten more good PR out of this effort than we could have ever afforded to pay for,” he said.
State Senator Eileen Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat and a board member of Boston 2024, said she was disappointed that her city would not be able to showcase the Merrimack River, the Tsongas Center, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell on the international stage, as the host of Olympic rowing and tae kwon do.
The USOC cited low poll numbers as the primary cause of the breakup with Boston 2024.
“Notwithstanding the promise of the original vision for the bid, and the soundness of the plan developed under Steve Pagliuca, we have not been able to get a majority of the citizens of Boston to support hosting the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Blackmun said. “Therefore, the USOC does not think that the level of support enjoyed by Boston’s bid would allow it to prevail over great bids from Paris, Rome, Hamburg, Budapest, or Toronto.”
The standoff between the mayor and the USOC over signing the host city guarantee — a promise that Boston would cover any cost overruns — appeared to be the final blow that ended the bid.
Boston 2024 had proposed an Olympic operating budget of $4.6 billion and depended on another $4 billion from private developers.
The organizers were counting on the federal government to provide $1 billion or more for security.
Walsh signed a letter in October to the USOC, saying he had reviewed the most recently available Olympic host city contract and, “I am cognizant of what responsibilities a 2024 designation would entail for Boston and in my capacity as the 54th mayor of this great city I hearby confirm the ability of the city of Boston to sign the host city contract with the USOC.”
But Walsh, in a Globe interview Monday, said the USOC was long aware that he had misgivings about the guarantee and was not going to sign unless he was confident taxpayer money was not at risk.
Boston 2024 developed an extensive insurance plan the committee claimed would protect taxpayers from a wide variety of risks. Walsh said the USOC did not allow him enough time to vet Boston 2024’s budgeting and the insurance plan.
“If we had time,” he said. “We needed time.”