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Boston's Olympic bid faces daunting foreign rivals

Paris already has an 80,000-seat stadium with a track inside. Rome can stage the archery competition at the Vatican with papal permission. Hamburg would group its major venues and the Olympic Village on an island in the Elbe River.

The three European cities that probably will be Boston’s biggest rivals for the 2024 Summer Games offer many of the same advantages as does the US bidder — intimacy and walkability, existing facilities, and historic backdrops.

The two capitals in the chase have the added edge not only of having staged the Olympics but also of having bid recently for them. Paris, which hosted in 1900 and 1924, was the favorite for the 2012 Games, which went to London. And Rome, the 1960 site, was runner-up for the 2004 Games and a top contender for 2020 before scuttling its candidacy for economic reasons.


Boston is a first-time contestant that would have to build most of its key venues from scratch with private money and persuade a reluctant public to spend billions of dollars on transportation improvements. The bid committee also has yet to reach an agreement with more than a half-dozen local universities to use their facilities and land for the Olympic Village and 10 sports venues ranging from swimming to tennis to badminton.

Because of their recent Olympic quests, Paris and Rome have more fully-formed venue plans than do Boston or Hamburg, another first-time bidder that was chosen ahead of 1936 host Berlin. The Germans last held the Olympics in the summer of 1972, in Munich.

Paris, which has not yet announced its candidacy but is expected to this summer, probably will use most of the same venues that it assembled for 2012. Those include the Stade de France, which was used for the 2003 world track and field championships and the 1998 World Cup soccer final, as well as Roland Garros — home of the French Open — for tennis, the Velodrome de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines for cycling, and the Hippodrome de Longchamp for equestrian events.


The Roland Garros stadium — home of the French Open — in Paris.CHRISTOPHE ENA/ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE

Rome, which was the first city to enter the race in December, is expected to employ several of its 1960 venues, most notably the Stadio Olimpico in the sprawling Foro Italico, which also has room for the aquatics events and tennis tournaments.

Hamburg not only has a number of existing facilities available, the continent’s second-largest port city (behind Rotterdam) has enough acreage along the Elbe for a spacious cluster on the Kleiner Grasbrook island that will accommodate most of the key venues, including a new 70,000-seat stadium, the Olympic Village, the basketball arena, and the aquatics complex.

The cluster, which resembles what London built in its transformed East End, would be the centerpiece of what Hamburg’s bidders call “Games on the Water with Short Distances.” Under the Agenda 2020 recommendations that the International Olympic Committee adopted unanimously in December, less costly and more compact Games are prized and proximity is a prime virtue.

In its winning pitch to the USOC, Boston stressed accessibility, pointing out that nearly all of its venues were close to public transportation. But all three of the European candidates, which have extensive transit systems, can say the same, as could London last time.

While Boston has the country’s fifth-largest transit network, handling 1.3 million riders a day, its Olympic people-moving plan depends on an expanded South Station, a new West Station (to service the proposed aquatics complex at Allston’s former Beacon Park railyard), an extended Green Line, and additional Red and Orange Line cars.


Those all will be public expenses, some of which still are unfunded. What’s notable about the Boston bid is that its driving force, John Fish, is a local construction magnate with no direct influence over the billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that will be necessary for infrastructure upgrades. By contrast, the major boosters of the Paris and Rome quests are French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

After Paris lost to London for 2012 by four votes in a devastating defeat (after having been beaten by Beijing for 2008 and Barcelona for 1992), there was reluctance for another Olympic attempt even though the City of Light was considered a front-runner for what would be a centennial Games.

After Hollande pushed the idea and Mayor Anne Hidalgo shelved her original reservations, the Paris City Council gave a thumbs-up. “We are now committed to the Olympic adventure,” declared Hidalgo, who’d said in November that she was “not into chasing dreams.”

Rome, which lost the 2004 race to Athens, was considered a strong challenger for the 2020 Games, which went to Tokyo. But despite strong public support, then-Prime Minister Mario Monti pulled the plug the day before the application was due in 2012, saying that it would not be responsible for the government to underwrite a $12 billion undertaking given the country’s precarious financial condition.


Rome’s Stadio Olimpico has room for the aquatics events and tennis tournaments.PLINIO LEPRI/ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE

With Italy still stuck in a historic recession amid widespread unemployment and political corruption, Renzi is backing the Games as an energizing event that could bring the country together. “Our problems shouldn’t stop us from dreaming,” he said when Rome announced its bid. “If we waited for things to be easy, we’d never try for anything.”

Germany, which organized an enormously successful World Cup in 2006, hadn’t bid for the Games since Berlin was summarily rejected for 2000 due to fierce public opposition. But with countryman Thomas Bach now IOC president and the domestic economy still robust, a German candidacy seemed particularly timely, especially since Munich opted out of bidding for the 2022 Winter Games after being bypassed for Pyeongchang for 2018.

Hamburg is the Teutonic version of what the USOC saw in Boston — a fresh face with a bid dossier that checks all of the Agenda 2020 boxes. “Hamburg has presented a fascinating and compact Olympic concept,” said German Olympic committee chairman Alfons Hoermann, who predicted that the Games would help the city grow as a north European metropolis.

With the application deadline not until September, there’s ample time for other contenders to emerge, with 2020 bidders Istanbul, Doha (Qatar), and Baku (Azerbaijan) as well as Budapest all considering applying. But when the IOC meets in Lima in September 2017 to make its choice for 2024, geopolitics likely will play a larger role than will thick bid books.

The next two Summer Olympics will be held in South America and Asia and the IOC, which is based in Switzerland, never has gone more than two quadrennia without awarding the Games to a European city.


But the last American site to stage them was Atlanta in 1996 and after the early dismissals of New York and Chicago from the 2012 and 2016 balloting, there was a clear desire for a strong US bid, especially with NBC paying nearly $8 billion in rights fees to the IOC through 2032.

The Agenda 2020 reforms were designed to attract numerous global cities that had been discouraged from bidding for Games because they would leave a budget-busting legacy of leftover facilities. While the new Olympic mantra of cheaper-smaller-saner has made Boston an attractive option, it has done the same for the European challengers.

Hamburg has enough acreage along the Elbe for a spacious cluster on the Kleiner Grasbrook island that will accommodate most of the key venues.FABIAN BIMMER/REUTERS/FILE

John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com.