Boston ends bid to host 2024 Olympics, giving Los Angeles an opportunity
The last time Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the conversation was not entirely pleasant.
USOC officials called in January to tell him that his city had lost a hotly debated competition to become the designated American bidder for the 2024 Summer Games.
Now the parties are expected to renew talks with Los Angeles, which is seen as a clear favorite to be the U.S. candidate.
The dramatic turnaround follows Monday’s announcement that Boston — the USOC’s initial selection — has pulled the plug on its bid after struggling for months with opposition groups and anemic public support.
If Garcetti was still bothered by last winter’s defeat — or the idea of being a second choice — it did not stop him from jumping right back into the fray.
“I continue to believe that Los Angeles is the ideal Olympic city,” he said in a statement issued minutes after Boston withdrew. “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.”
The USOC is expected to contact the two other American finalists — San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — but those cities finished well behind in the first board of directors vote.
The clock is ticking. If the U.S. wants to move forward with a substitute candidate, it must notify the International Olympic Committee by mid-September. The IOC will pick the winner in summer 2017 at a meeting in Lima, Peru.
“We understand the reality of the timeline that is before us,” said Scott Blackmun, USOC chief executive, adding that the committee is expected to provide an update on the process in August.
Paris has been considered an early favorite in a 2024 race that includes Rome and Hamburg, Germany, but IOC officials clearly want a bid from the U.S., so any American entry would automatically be a serious contender.
The L.A. proposal emphasizes affordability, with a majority of events held at existing venues such as Staples Center, Pauley Pavilion and a potentially renovated Memorial Coliseum.
An NFL stadium could also come into play by 2024.
This sports infrastructure could make the financial guarantees included in the IOC’s host city contract less worrisome and would fit with Agenda 2020, a series of reforms that, among other things, seek to make the Games less expensive to host.
Several candidate cities recently withdrew bids for the 2022 Winter Games, citing cost as a primary concern. The IOC will choose between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, when it votes on Friday.
Money was at the heart of Boston’s struggles. From the start, residents worried about tax dollars paying for one of the world’s largest and most extravagant competitions.
Polls consistently showed public support mired in the 30% to 40% range. Earlier this month, USOC officials warned Boston that they wanted to see an uptick in those numbers.
On Monday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called a news conference to announce he was not ready to sign the standard host city contract, preferring to wait until he knew more about the economics of his city’s bid.
“I cannot commit to putting the taxpayers at risk,’' he said, adding that if USOC demanded his signature, “Boston is no longer pursuing to host the 2024 Summer Games.”
It was the tipping point for a bid headed in the wrong direction. The USOC board quickly discussed the matter in a teleconference and, shortly after noon, issued a joint statement with Boston 2024 officials.
“We continue to believe that hosting the Games would have brought transformational benefits to Boston,” said Steve Pagliuca, head of the bid committee. However, he added, the city faces other economic priorities “when it come to the cost of housing, our aging infrastructure, and the need to help all Bostonians find good jobs.”
The Americans could choose to skip the 2024 bidding cycle, but that might waste the political capital they have earned in recent years.
In 2012, they agreed to share more of their enormous revenues from U.S. broadcasters with other nations. More recently, they have worked hard to be involved in the Olympic movement by hosting and attending IOC conferences.
Still, a Los Angeles campaign would face obstacles.
The city has been saddled with a “been there, done that” label, having previously hosted the Games in 1932 and 1984. If selected as the U.S. candidate, it would be further tainted as a second choice.
But L.A. would have two years to build a compelling argument.
“If it can be done anywhere, it can be done in Hollywood,” said Jules Boykoff, a political science professor at Pacific University in Oregon who tracks Olympic bidding. “They’ll get talented people to put forth something snappy.”
Public opinion might also provide a boost.
Many Los Angeles residents have fond memories of 1984, when traffic was manageable and the Games turned a profit. Initial polling last fall showed an approval rate in the mid- to high 70% range.
A last-second switch might also appeal to IOC voters who have spent the past few months watching Boston’s difficulties from afar. As Boykoff put it, the bar for a replacement “has been set pretty low.”
“With all that has happened, the USOC will probably be inclined to go with a safe bet,” he said. “For sure, that would be Los Angeles.”
Follow David Wharton on Twitter @LATimesWharton
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