Boston Made the ‘Short List’ to Host The 2024 Olympics. So Now What Happens?

The transportation logistics alone are an enormous undertaking, experts say.

Olympic Ring photo Uploaded By John Curnow on Flickr

Olympic Ring photo Uploaded By John Curnow on Flickr

And then there were four.

On Friday, officials from the United States Olympic Committee announced that they narrowed down the list of potential cities to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, and Boston made the cut.

“Boston is a world-class city and would serve as a wonderful host for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024,” said Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish, who led the Special Commission Relative to the Feasibility of Hosting the Summer Olympics in the Commonwealth, which put Boston in the race. “Our history, leading-edge business industries, and sports-loving residents would provide a perfect atmosphere for the Olympic movement and the spirit of the games.”

Other areas deemed adequate to welcome tens of thousands of sport-fans, spectators, and athletes to their city were Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

“We’re extremely pleased with the level of interest U.S. cities have shown in hosting the games,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun in a statement. “[Each city has] given us reason to believe they can deliver a compelling and successful bid, and we look forward to continuing to explore the possibilities as we consider 2024.”

The decision to include Boston in the lineup came after a recent meeting with Olympic officials this week in Cambridge. That meeting was preceded by an extensive report compiled by the special legislative commission led by Fish, which was tasked with analyzing the costs and infrastructure changes needed for Boston to host the games. In their report, the committee concluded that it would be possible for the region to move forward with a bid, but noted that it would be “a monumental task that is not to be taken lightly.”

Now that Boston is in the running, a group of business, community, and political leaders will travel around the Commonwealth and start to calculate the costs involved, and examine the pros and cons of bringing the Olympics to the Bay State in 10 years. The group will work with urban planners, community activists, and financial experts to iron out those details in the coming months, while also occasionally meeting with officials from the USOC.

Making the list represents a small piece of a much larger process, however. There are additional hurdles Boston would need to jump in order to actually become the destination point for such a large-scale sporting event. In order to be considered, the USOC has to decide if they even want to have the games in the U.S. in 2024. If they do, the USOC would then have to pick between the four cities on the short list, and submit a bid to the International Olympic Committee by 2015. Once they do that, it would be up to the IOC to decide if that particular city would be a better option than other locations from around the globe that are also vying to host the games. That decision would happen in 2017. Boston could back out of this process at any time.

After the announcement was made Friday, we reached out to Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, and one of the members of the Olympic feasibility committee commissioned by the state, to see what happens next. Here’s what he had to say:

What are the chances Boston will actually host the Olympics?

I think they’re good. There is a lot of questions we have to answer, but the U.S. Olympic Committee contacted 35 cities initially. At least a dozen of those cities showed quite a bit of interest, and seven cities took it to the point of doing some preliminary feasibility work. We did that in Massachusetts as part of the legislative commission authorized that I served on. Now we are down to four. I think that’s quite an accomplishment and I’m confident that we can put together a plan that accommodates the physical needs of the games. But the issue will be—and work has to be done on it—on the financial feasibility. I know the USOC wants to make a decision by year end, so it will be a pretty intense period of gathering that information, analyzing it, reaching out to the various stakeholders, and involving the educational institutions, which will be key to making this happen. It’s a lot of work but exciting to be part of the small group at this point.

What other work has to be done? Do you have to schmooze with the international folks?

I think that’s the next stage. But in the next six or seven months are monthly meetings with USOC staff who will come to Boston, and probably a session in Colorado Springs with their senior staff. That’s where the USOC is based. Basically [we will be] putting together what would be the equivalent of the bid book that the USOC would file with the IOC, just to anticipate whether any of the requirements of the IOC were showstoppers, or couldn’t be met by the prospective host city. It’s a lot of physical planning. We have to look at what are the transportation options, what are possible locations for the venue, where is the Olympic Village, where is the stage for the opening and closing ceremonies, the International media broadcast center; it’s a whole lot of work and looking at the planned infrastructure improvements.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for Boston?

I think the challenge is going to be moving the athletes to the venues, and the spectators to their seats.

So the MBTA?

Using public transportation for the spectators, and the Commuter Rail and Amtrak—all of those pieces and dedicating the lanes on highways so athletes are assured to get in a timely manner from the Village to the venues, I think those kinds of issues are going to be the biggest challenge. They were in London, and they are in any major city. But the transportation logistics is an enormous undertaking.

Do you think those issues could even be addressed?

I think the capacity is there, and there’s an opportunity for a very concentrated games in Boston. Again, the universities play a key role with existing facilities and making land available for temporary facilities, and in some instances I think we could see partnering for permanent facilities. I’ve already heard about interest in new aquatics facilities at a couple of universities. Creative solutions will be necessary here. You have to find those legacy users, or the economics are hard to make work. It can’t just be for the games.

Since we’re talking about costs, how much is the bidding process?

It’s going to cost with this first stage with the USOC about $10 million. We have commitments for that amount from business community sponsors, and that effort is being headed by Roger Crandall, the CEO of MassMutual Life Insurance. No public funds have been, or will be, expended during that phase. The second phase is with the International Olympic Committee. That requires extensive travel and presentations. There are 115 voting members of the IOC, and you have to meet with every one of them. Also, there are a number of international sports federations, one for each of the Olympic sports. They are key advisors to the IOC because they want to see a facility where in their sport world records will be set. So they all need to be met with in their headquarters’ countries to discuss plans for that sport. That budget has been, and will be, arounds$75 million to put those presentations together, to cover travel, and to entertain key members of the IOC who could decide to come to Boston. There are strict ethical rules to that.

John Fish has already said he’s prepared to make those trips and make those connections internationally. 

He has been the moving force behind the effort to date. He was chairman of the feasibility commission, and has made the commitment to move this forward and be the key salesperson for the bid, if we are lucky enough to win the USOC bid and decide to move forward with Boston and Massachusetts. He’s at a point in his career where he thinks this is a very important effort for him to be involved in. He’s willing to make that personal commitment.