Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics is over.
The city and the U.S. Olympic Committee severed ties after a board teleconference Monday, ending an effort that was troubled nearly from the moment it started.
The decision throws the bid process — and hopes that the U.S. will host another Olympics — into flux. Only seven weeks remain before cities have to be officially nominated. USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said the federation wants to stay in the race. If so, Los Angeles would be the likely choice.
Blackmun said the bid leaders still felt Boston could deliver a great Olympics.
“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,” Blackmun said. “As a result, we have reached a mutual agreement to withdraw Boston’s bid.”
The Boston bid soured within days of its beginning in January, beset by poor communication and an active opposition group that kept public support low. It also failed to get — and keep — the support of key politicians.
Earlier Monday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced he would not be pressured into signing the host city contract that puts the city on the hook for any cost overruns. Gov. Charlie Baker had been unwilling to pledge his support, waiting instead to see a full report from a consulting group that wasn’t scheduled to be complete until next month.
The chairmen of No Boston Olympics released a statement, and planned a celebration at a Boston pub later Monday.
“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,” the statement said. “We’re better off for having passed on Boston 2024.”
Boston 2024 chairman Steve Pagliuca portrayed the move as a joint decision made “in order to give the Olympic movement in the United States the best chance to bring the Games back to our country in 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. That timing, along with the USOC’s vastly improved relationship with its international partners, made this look like a race that was America’s to lose, even against world-class cities such as Rome and Paris.
But the USOC also showed its uncanny knack for shooting itself in the foot, no matter who’s in charge. Political missteps and hamhanded campaigning marred the last two U.S. bids — New York and Chicago each finished an embarrassing fourth for the 2012 and 2016 Games, respectively. The USOC stayed out of the 2020 race to be sure it got things right for 2024. Instead, the federation didn’t even make it to the international phase of the competition before running into trouble.
The USOC spent nearly two years on a mostly secret domestic selection process that began with letters to almost three dozen cities gauging interest in hosting the Games.
There’s still time, though, to save face if chairman Larry Probst and Blackmun 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.
“I would be happy to engage in discussions with the USOC about how to present the strongest and most fiscally responsible bid on behalf of our city and nation,” Garcetti said.
Los Angeles hosted the 1932 and 1984 Olympics. It was viewed as the safest, but maybe not the sexiest, choice. Now, it appears to be the only choice if the USOC is going to stay in the game. While it’s a familiar pick, the city has experienced Olympic leadership, several venues already in place and far less entrenched opposition.
Boston’s initial bid team talked a big game, but made empty promises. Recently released documents show organizers underestimated the amount of opposition and downplayed the possibility of a statewide referendum on the games.
Most of that bid team was replaced, though the new team, led by Pagliuca, didn’t fare much better. Their new plan took a blowtorch to the popular 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. And claims — backed by an intricate and confusing set of insurance policies — that the public wouldn’t be on the hook for the multibillion-dollar sports event never gained traction.
Walsh’s announcement at a quickly arranged 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.
Poll numbers that were in the 30s moved into the 40s, but didn’t show many signs of improving anytime soon.
Baker’s endorsement might have helped, but the governor, whose Jan. 8 inauguration was overshadowed by the same-day announcement of Boston as the USOC’s pick, never signed on. He spoke with USOC leaders Monday and told them he’d do things on his own timeline.
“I don’t feel like I was strong-armed or bullied in any way,” he said after the announcement was made.
His position, combined with Walsh’s news conference Monday, set the stage for a difficult decision that many insiders felt the board should have made several weeks ago.