Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics was undercut by its own mayor, its skeptical public and, finally, leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee, who were tired of the city’s ever-changing blueprint.
Next, it might be time to see if there is more Olympic love in Los Angeles.
After the USOC and Boston cut ties on Monday, CEO Scott Blackmun said the federation still wants to try to host the 2024 Games. The USOC has until Sept. 15 to officially name its candidate. Several Olympic leaders have quietly been pushing Los Angeles — the city that invented the modern-day template for the Olympics when it played host in 1984 — as the best possible substitute.
San Francisco and Washington were also in the mix at the end of the USOC’s domestic selection process.
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Approval ratings that couldn’t sneak out of the 40s were the first sign of trouble for Boston, and it became clear the bid was doomed in the 72-hour period before the USOC board met with bid leaders Monday and they jointly decided to pull the plug.
On Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker stuck to his previous position: He would need a full report from a consulting group before he would throw his weight behind the bid. On Monday morning, Mayor Marty Walsh slapped together a news conference to announce he wouldn’t be pressured into signing the host city contract that essentially sticks the city and state with the burden of any cost overruns.
No governor. No mayor. No bid.
“Boston 2024 has expressed confidence that, with more time, they could generate the public support necessary to win the bid and deliver a great games,” Blackmun said. “They also recognize, however, that we are out of time if the USOC is going to be able to consider a bid from another city.”
The Boston bid started souring within days of its beginning in January, beset by poor communication and an active opposition group that kept public support low. At his news conference, Walsh said the opposition to the Olympics amounted to about “10 people on Twitter.” He miscalculated, and the Internet struck back. The hashtag #10peopleonTwitter started trending.
The chairs of No Boston Olympics celebrated Monday night at a Boston pub.
“We need to move forward as a city, and today’s decision allows us to do that on our own terms, not the terms of the USOC or the IOC,” they said in a statement. “We’re better off for having passed on Boston 2024.”
The United States hasn’t hosted a Summer Olympics since the Atlanta Games in 1996, or any Olympics since the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002. Bids for 2012 (New York) and 2016 (Chicago) both ended in fourth-place embarrassments.
The USOC spent nearly two years on a mostly secret domestic selection process for 2024 that began with letters to almost three dozen cities gauging interest in hosting the games. The thought was that the long gap between Olympics, combined with the USOC’s vastly improved relationship with international leaders, would make this America’s race to lose. But the federation ran into trouble before getting to the starting line.
There’s still time to save face. Chairman Larry Probst and Blackmun likely will make quick phone calls to leaders in Los Angeles, including Mayor Eric Garcetti and agent/power broker Casey Wasserman. Garcetti released a statement saying he’d had no contact with the USOC, but was willing to talk.
A move to San Francisco or Washington would come as a surprise. Then again, Boston was a surprise when it won at first.
“We were all excited when (Boston) was announced, but it seems to have stumbled since,” said John Coates, vice president of the International Olympic Committee, who was in Kuala Lumpur for an IOC meeting. “But it’s better to face up to these things early if you don’t have full public support.”
IOC executive board member Sergei Bubka of Ukraine said he believes it’s important for the United States to bid.
And if it’s Los Angeles?
“Los Angeles has great history, lots of experience. We will respect their decision,” Bubka said.
Los Angeles has already hosted the 1932 and 1984 Olympics.
The ’84 Games, with former USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth helping call the shots, came in the wake of the 1980 Moscow boycott and a bidding process in which only one other city — Tehran — expressed serious interest. Los Angeles reinvigorated the struggling Olympic brand. Some of the venues, including the L.A. Coliseum, are already in place and could be spruced up for the 2024 Games.
Still, when the USOC was going through its vetting process, some in the IOC chafed at a possible return to a sprawling, traffic-choked city that the Olympics had been to twice already. But as the Boston bid tanked, Los Angeles started looking better.
What’s certain is that Boston will never know where it would have finished against Rome, Paris, Hamburg, Germany, and, quite possibly, Toronto, which is considering a bid. The bid’s one and only public disclosure report, released in March, said they spent $2 million over the initial months of the effort.
The Boston effort broke down under the weight of empty promises and ever-changing plans and leadership teams.
Recently released documents show the original organizers underestimated the amount of opposition and downplayed the possibility of a statewide referendum on the games.
A plan rewritten by a new leadership team, led by Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca, took a blowtorch to the original idea of a compact, walkable Olympics, instead spreading venues around the metro area and the state. There was no firm plan for a media center, considered one of the biggest projects at any games. Even though complex insurance policies were in place, claims that the public wouldn’t be on the hook for the multibillion-dollar sports event never gained traction.
Walsh’s news conference Monday reflected that.
“I will not sign a document that puts one dollar of taxpayers’ money on the line for one penny of overruns on the Olympics,” he said.
Turns out, he won’t have to.
Associated Press reporter Steve Wilson contributed from Kuala Lumpur, and Bob Salsberg, Philip Marcelo and Jimmy Golen contributed from Boston.