By Philip Hersh
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has pre-empted what now seems an imminent U.S. Olympic Committee decision to end Boston's 2024 Summer Olympic bid. In a press conference barely an hour before the USOC board of directors has a Monday conference call to discuss the Boston bid, Walsh said he would not commit to signing the host city contract that would make Boston the financial backstop for any Olympic Games losses.
The International Olympic Committee requires all host cities to sign the contract, and the USOC would not present a candidate unwilling to agree to the contract's terms.
Walsh said he needed to know more about Games finances before signing the contract. While he has made similar comments before, the timing of this one, coming at what the Boston Globe said was a "hastily called" Monday press conference, gives it more weight.
"I cannot commit to putting the taxpayers at risk," said Walsh, according to a Boston Globe story about the press conference. He said if signing the contract is required by the USOC, then "Boston is no longer pursuing to host the 2024 Summer Games.
"I refuse to mortgage the future of the city away," the Globe quoted him as saying. "This is a commitment that I can't make without ensuring the city and its residents will be protected. ... I think it's unfortunate that it's come to this point."
The USOC must submit an official candidacy to the IOC by Sept. 15. The IOC members will select the 2024 host city in September 2017.
Paris is the early favorite in a field that unofficially includes Rome, Hamburg, Budapest and Baku, Azerbaijan. In the wake of the successful Pan American Games that ended Sunday in Toronto, the head of the Canadian Olympic Committee said Toronto will launch a 2024 bid.
IOC President Thomas Bach has encouraged a U.S. bid for 2024 to the point that the USOC almost feels compelled to present another city, most likely two-time host Los Angeles, if the Boston bid is killed.
It is unlikely the USOC would make such a decision immediately. USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun has repeatedly said there have been no talks with Los Angeles officials about becoming a substitute candidate.
The Associated Press reported the USOC has been pushing Massachsetts Governor Charlie Baker to take a position on the bid, but Baker said again he would not do so before getting the report of a consulting group hired to evaluate all aspects of the potential candidacy. Baker was to be on Monday's conference call, which began at 10:30 a.m. Central time. Polls have shown support for the bid in the Boston area has barely topped 40 percent.
The bid's credibilty suffered its most recent setback in the release last Friday of documents detailing the original iteration of Boston 2024's proposal to the USOC.
Despite assertions there would be no financial liability to taxpayers, those documents showed a projected budget shortfall of $471 million. That decifit does not appear in the bid committee's revised plan, the so-called "Boston 2.0."
Boston 2024 officials also told the USOC in the original presentation there would be no significant local opposition to the bid, even though at least one opposition group, No Boston Olympics, already had been formed. Walsh continued to dismiss the power of the opposition in his Monday press conference.
"The opposition for the most part is about 10 people on Twitter and a couple people out there who are constantly beating the drum beat," Walsh said. "This is about the taxpayers and what I have to do as mayor."
(c)2015 the Chicago Tribune