The quixotic quest to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston could end as early as Monday.
Here’s what we know:
When and where is this happening?
The United States Olympic Committee is set to discuss, and possibly vote on, the fate of the troubled bid during a conference call with board members at 9:30 a.m. on Monday that will include Governor Charlie Baker. In recent days, Baker has come under increased pressure from the USOC to announce whether or not he supports the bid. And despite assurances to the contrary at last week’s televised debate, speculation is growing that the USOC’s patience with the city is running out. Tomorrow’s USOC board meeting comes as some members are in Kuala Lumpur for a meeting of the International Olympic Committee, taking place later on Monday, that will determine the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The USOC is unhappy for a variety of reasons. People close to the bid cite a lack of political support from Baker—and to a lesser extent, Mayor Marty Walsh, who has been generally supportive of the bid—because of their publicly stated reluctance to sign off on any kind of host city agreement that includes a taxpayer guarantee. Boston 2024 and USOC officials have been very clear that in order for the bid to go forward, elected officials have to sign off on the taxpayer guarantee as-is; no modifications or changes are possible in the IOC’s eyes.
The lack of support on Beacon Hill from House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg is of additional concern. The USOC folks see only one person of power in Massachusetts politics—Walsh—in their corner.
On Friday, the long-simmering subject of Baker’s support inexplicably jumped to the foreground. For months, Baker has been tight-lipped about whether he would support the bid, sometimes expressing frustration with the lack of detail being released by Boston 2024, but at other times signaling his support for the process, provided it doesn’t eat up taxpayer money. It was widely understood that Baker wouldn’t take a position until after he receives the results of a $250,000 study by the Brattle Group, commissioned by the State to study the economic impact and liability of the Olympic bid. That report isn’t due until mid-August. So it came was a surprise late last week when the Associated Press reported that the USOC was pressuring Baker to declare his stance by the close of business Friday. Baker’s office later denied that report, but not before confirming Friday that he wouldn’t take a firm position until the Brattle Group’s report came back.
Boston 2024 did not immediately respond to requests for comment to this story.
With Monday’s meetings looming, speculation is running high that the USOC would not have pressured Baker into a quick decision unless it was in desperate straits. The USOC may be hesitant to wait much longer, since it must submit an official decision on the US candidate to the International Olympic Committee on September 15. If the USOC waits until the release of the Brattle Group’s audit—and Baker then tells Boston 2024 to go jump in a lake—the USOC would then have less than a month to put together a multi-billion dollar bid package from another city. And the IOC has a lot riding on this as well. The 2024 Summer Olympics are seen by many in the broader Olympic movement as a major opportunity to showcase the IOC’s host city reforms, known as Agenda 2020. If the United States, a major outlier on the world’s stage for how major international events are run, does not submit something it would be considered by many in the movement as a major, possibly unforgivable, embarrassment.
So, can the bid be saved?
Maybe, but a recovery by Boston 2024 right now would be like coming back in a playoff series when you’re down 0-3.
The bid needs the backing from the USOC board if it is to continue. Inside The Games, a global sports business news site, suggested that several board members have had it with the Boston 2024 bid and are ready to pull the plug—and award the US bid to Los Angeles. The Boston Herald heard from one USOC board member who said she thinks L.A. is a strong potential replacement for the Boston bid. “L.A. is perpetually ready. It can host with only two years notice,” said Antia DeFrantz to the Herald.
Even if the bid survives Monday’s conference call, major obstacles await. The USOC and outside consultants have been supportive of the bid, but their efforts have failed to move the needle on public opinion. The strong and loud opposition to the bid was downplayed in Boston 2024’s initial pitch to the USOC bid according to recently released documents. Beacon Hill’s stubbornness, subpoena threats, FOIAs, and a looming ballot question have all made it difficult for the bid to gain favorability locally, nationally, or globally. A revamped Bid 2.0, with more details and stunning visuals of what Boston could look like post-Olympics, did little to resuscitate the bid. A new insurance plan that boosters say will protect taxpayers from overruns was met with a shoulder shrug by the media and electeds. Thursday’s smoldering demolition derby of a debate with opponents on WFXT was a draw, a result that effectively helps the opposition. The bid is, in many ways, on life support.
Tomorrow is Game 4 for Boston 2024.
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