One thing was obvious Thursday night: The US Olympic Committee clearly doesn’t want Boston putting any asterisks on its bid for the 2024 Summer Games.
The question of how much liability taxpayers might bear for a Boston Olympics figured prominently in a debate sponsored by the Globe and Fox 25. Typically, host cities are expected to provide a financial guarantee. But when New York put in for the 2012 Summer Games, and Chicago for 2016, there was an asterisk — the public’s liability for cost overruns was explicitly limited.
Local Olympic organizers could boost their poll numbers by agreeing to a similar limit. But Boston 2024 chairman Steve Pagliuca and his debating partner, US Olympic Committee board member Dan Doctoroff, weren’t having it. Why not tell the International Olympic Committee, asked moderator Sacha Pfeiffer, that Boston won’t sign a guarantee or wants a ceiling on its guarantee?
“Because they have other cities that have countries that are willing to support them,” Doctoroff replied.
Yet the US Olympic Committee could turn that argument around: Having a Summer Games in the United States — whose TV viewers and corporate behemoths sustain the global Olympic movement — is supposedly important to the IOC. If so, members of the international body need to understand the political constraints American cities face in a federalist system. The US government will never write a blank check for an Olympics. For the IOC, accepting a limit on the host city’s exposure should be the price of making a Summer Games in America happen.
If all goes as Pagliuca and Doctoroff hope — if the layers of insurance that Boston 2024 is lining up cover any overruns — no public guarantee will be needed anyway.
Adding an asterisk to Boston’s Olympic bid would be like making a lowball offer on a home. If that offer gets rejected, no problem: The Olympic planning process up to this point has already yielded some bright ideas — a new neighborhood at Widett Circle, the extension of the Emerald Necklace — that the city could pursue regardless.
Would Boston stick to a lowball offer? At the eleventh hour, Chicago mayor Richard Daley backed down and offered the International Olympic Committee a blanket guarantee.
In the intervening years, the IOC has decided it wants to bring down the cost of putting on the Games. But, ironically, the US committee seems more resistant than it was a decade ago to limiting the host city’s exposure. But to win the Olympics on terms that work for Boston, Boston 2024 would need to acknowledge the city’s fiscal limitations — even at the risk of losing the bid.
Clarification: An earlier version of this post failed to mention that Chicago ultimately agreed to an unlimited guarantee.