Timing may be right for Boston’s Olympic bid
New York went out in the second round of balloting in the 2012 derby. Chicago was dismissed from the 2016 race before its mayor even entered the convention hall in Copenhagen. But this time will be different for the American bid city, Olympic insiders say.
While Boston, named last week as the US candidate for the 2024 Summer Games, will probably be up against several major European capitals when the International Olympic Committee makes its choice in September 2017, the first-time contender will be competing amid a decidedly more favorable landscape than did its two domestic predecessors.
Not only has the IOC strongly encouraged an American candidate, but Boston’s bid also is in tune with the committee’s new emphasis on using existing, temporary, and movable venues.
NBC, which last year signed a $7.75 billion extension with the IOC to broadcast the Olympics through 2032, is eager to have the Summer Games return to the States for the first time since Atlanta in 1996.
There’s also a far better relationship now between the IOC and the US Olympic Committee, which Chicago bid leader Patrick Ryan once described as a “Hatfield and McCoy deal.”
“There were some issues that existed six or seven years ago where the relationship between the USOC and the IOC was not terrific,” Larry Probst, the USOC board chairman and an IOC member, said at a news conference on the decision Friday in Boston.
The most divisive issue was the prolonged squabbling over how to share revenues from US broadcast rights and global sponsorships, which was resolved three years ago when the IOC and USOC agreed on a formula through 2040.
“I just think we’re in a much better position to bid,” Probst said after the board chose Boston ahead of two-time host Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington as its standard bearer; the USOC had bypassed the 2020 competition, which went to Tokyo.
“We’ve received a lot of encouragement from the leadership of the IOC, and many IOC members are telling us that it’s America’s time to step up to the plate and put forward a bid, and we’re very excited about doing that.”
Not that Boston won’t face stiff competition from a field that is likely to include three former hosts with undeniable global cachet.
Paris, which lost to London by four votes in the 2012 race, would be celebrating the centennial of its 1924 Games.
Berlin, which staged the infamous 1936 “Nazi Olympics,” would be showcasing a reunified Germany.
And Rome, the 1960 host, was runner-up to Athens for 2004.
Yet there’s reason to believe that a Boston bid, coming after sprawling Olympics in Sydney, Athens, Beijing, and London, will be attractive to IOC members who want a cheaper and more compact event.
One USOC board member observed that Boston, with its “walkable” concept for spectators, could be a “summer Lillehammer,” referring to the Norwegian town that staged the intimate and enchanting 1994 Winter Games.
What also could help Boston’s chances is the feeling that Chicago, which was eliminated in the first round of the four-city 2016 race with only 18 of 94 votes, was a victim of anti-American sentiment and a sense that South America deserved to finally stage the Games.
“The cavalier treatment of Chicago was not good,” said Dick Pound, a longtime IOC member from Canada. “Everybody suddenly fell in love with the idea that it was time for Brazil.”
The choice of Rio de Janeiro, which won in a landslide over Madrid, was a nightmare for the IOC, which has had to intervene to help the organizers build venues in time for the Games that will begin a year from August. So an American candidate for 2024 will have a special appeal.
“It’s not good for the Olympic family to have the US withdraw,” said Pound.
Especially with NBC and sponsors such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Visa underwriting much of the Olympic movement.
With the three Games after Rio taking place in South Korea, Japan, and either China or Kazakhstan, IOC members have made it clear that an American candidacy is both welcome and overdue.
While Boston’s nomination was startling and puzzling to many — “Are you kidding me?! Boston???” Los Angeles City Council member Joe Buscaino tweeted — it wasn’t considered shocking by IOC members. “It’s not actually that much of a surprise,” said Pound.
Washington carries considerable geopolitical baggage. To many members, voting for the nation’s capital would have been seen as an endorsement of US foreign policy.
San Francisco, which lost out to New York in the 2012 domestic competition and cut short its 2016 campaign, was hampered by rising public opposition, renewed uncertainty about a stadium, and a venue plan spread among half a dozen cities around the Bay Area.
And while Los Angeles, with almost all its facilities in place, would have been an easy choice, its candidacy had a “been there” feel because it hosted the games in 1932 and 1984.
Boston, which presented the freshest face in the field, would be the Little Big Man of the 2024 contenders as perhaps the planet’s foremost center of education, medicine, and technology.
While some USOC board members acknowledged that they were taking a gamble with a city that needs to build some major venues and solve considerable people-moving challenges, that’s not unusual for an Olympic host.
“America being America, it will probably find a first-class solution,” predicted Pound.
The city with the world’s foremost marathon has experience handling a long-haul sports enterprise. Winning the USOC’s endorsement was the first checkpoint in what will be a nine-year race.
The next marker comes in September, when the USOC formally submits Boston to the IOC as its candidate, followed by the city’s application deadline in January 2016.
This time, IOC members say, the American bidder should have an easier course to negotiate.
It will depend on how it presents itself, Swiss member Gian-Franco Kasper told the Associated Press. “If they come back with the old arrogance they had before, then of course it will not be helpful,’’ he said. “But I think they have learned the lesson, too.”