Step­ping in on ’24 Games if Bos­ton stum­bles?

USOC could look to L.A. if trou­bles with Olympic bid re­main un­re­solved.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By David Whar­ton

Five months have passed since Bos­ton de­feated Los An­ge­les in a close race to rep­re­sent the U.S. in bid­ding for the 2024 Sum­mer Olympics.

It has been a dif­fi­cult stretch for or­ga­niz­ers in the Mas­sachusetts cap­i­tal, who have faced per­sis­tent op­po­si­tion and watched public sup­port dip be­low 40% amid con­cerns about the cost of the Games.

The bid com­mit­tee has reshuf­fled its lead­er­ship and promised a re­vamped master plan on Tues­day. The clock is tick­ing.

U.S. Olympic Com­mit­tee board mem­bers will meet in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia this week and, though they will prob­a­bly not take decisive ac­tion now, there is in­creas­ing pres­sure to aban­don the Bos­ton bid.

Pulling the plug would leave two op­tions: Sub­mit no Amer­i­can city for 2024 or make a last-minute switch.

Los An­ge­les — with an Olympic track record and an ar­ray of world-class venues — could be an easy so­lu­tion, said in­di­vid­u­als close to the sit­u­a­tion who are not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly.

“The Bos­ton bid is in se­ri­ous trou­ble,” said Jules Boykoff, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at Pa­cific Univer­sity in Ore­gon who tracks Olympic af­fairs. “These next few weeks are so im­por­tant.”

USOC and Los An­ge­les of­fi­cials say they have not dis­cussed — and will not com­ment on — the pos­si­bil­ity of a switch. A Bos­ton 2024 ex­ec­u­tive says his group re­mains con­fi­dent as it presents a new plan to USOC di­rec­tors.

“I know the board is cu­ri­ous,” said Richard Davey, the bid com­mit­tee’s chief ex­ec­u­tive. “I don’t sense this is any­thing other than keep­ing our trusted part­ner in­formed and get­ting their ad­vice.”

The U.S. has un­til midSeptem­ber to sub­mit an ap­pli­ca­tion to the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee. Af­ter that, the process slows con­sid­er­ably, with al­most two years of plan­ning and pre­sen­ta­tions be­fore the IOC se­lects a host in 2017.

That gives Bos­ton of­fi­cials a chance to fix their prob­lems if they re­main the can­di­date. Last week, USOC lead­ers took a first look at the re­vised bid plan and were en­cour­aged, Davey said.

If noth­ing else, Bos­ton might have bought it­self time.

The bid com­mit­tee has scram­bled to re­bound from early mis­steps that in­cluded a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with res­i­dents about the pro­posal’s de­tails.

“Bos­to­ni­ans like to be heard early and of­ten,” Davey said. “We did not get the ‘early’ part right but now we’re get­ting the ‘of­ten’ part right.”

A re­cent poll by ra­dio sta­tion WBUR showed only 39% of res­i­dents fa­vor host­ing the Games. Forty-nine per­cent were op­posed.

Not that Olympic lead­ers ex­pect over­whelm­ing sup­port with cities around the world be­com­ing more so­phis­ti­cated about the bil­lions of dol­lars it costs to host the Games. Boykoff said: “The word is out — the Olympics aren’t the eco­nomic deal we were al­ways told they would be.”

Still, the IOC prefers some­thing around 70% ap­proval.

“Ul­ti­mately, public sup­port is very im­por­tant,” said Michael Payne, a for­mer IOC mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor who also ad­vised the suc­cess­ful Lon­don 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 bids. “Two years from now, the IOC wants to know that a ma­jor­ity of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion thinks host­ing the Olympic Games is a good idea.”

Lon­don’s bid over­came early poll num­bers that lin­gered around 50% by chang­ing lead­er­ship and im­prov­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion with res­i­dents. Bos­ton ap­pears to be tak­ing sim­i­lar steps.

Con­struc­tion mag­nate John Fish stepped down as chair­man of the bid com­mit­tee in May, giv­ing way to Steve Pagli­uca, co-owner of the Celtics. More re­cently, there has been an ap­par­ent strate­gic shift.

The WBUR poll showed 51% of re­spon­dents fa­vor venues be­ing spread across the state. Bos­ton 2024 — which orig­i­nally pro­posed a “walk­a­ble” Olympics — would still have as many as 25 venues clus­tered in the city but now has sev­eral po­ten­tial sites in out­ly­ing ar­eas.

Hand­ball would be played in Worces­ter, fenc­ing would be in Low­ell and sail­ing events would be al­most 60 miles away in the wa­ters off New Bed­ford.

Op­po­nents have not been en­tirely im­pressed.

“They’re cer­tainly mak­ing ef­forts,” said Chris Dempsey, co-chair of a group called No Bos­ton Olympics. “The ques­tion is, are they re­ally ad­dress­ing fun­da­men­tal con­cerns with this bid?”

The big­gest worry? Taxpayers get­ting stuck with the bill for cost over­runs.

“If ev­ery­thing goes swim­mingly, there is a fi­nite amount of risk,” Dempsey said. “But what if ev­ery­thing doesn’t go ac­cord­ing to plan?”

Af­ford­abil­ity was a ma­jor selling point in Los An­ge­les’ pro­posal last win­ter, when the USOC board chose from a list that also in­cluded San Fran­cisco and Washington, D.C.

The South­ern Cal­i­for­nia bid fea­tured Sta­ples Cen­ter, Stub­Hub Cen­ter and a ren­o­vated Pauley Pav­il­ion among other venues con­structed in the decades since the 1984 Sum­mer Games. The re­gion might also have an NFL sta­dium by 2024.

Ex­ist­ing sites would al­low Los An­ge­les to get up and run­ning with a vi­able bid cam­paign al­most im­me­di­ately.

“No­body ques­tions that they can de­liver the Games,” Payne said.

There is another rea­son to choose Los An­ge­les — as op­posed to sub­mit­ting no bid at all — if the USOC turns away from Bos­ton.

Fewer and fewer cities have shown in­ter­est in host­ing the Olympics over the last decade. Sev­eral can­di­dates with­drew bids for the 2022 Win­ter Games, leav­ing only Bei­jing and Al­maty, Kaza­khstan.

With its “Agenda 2020” re­form pack­age, the IOC has sought to make the process less for­mal and costly. Paris, Rome and Ham­burg have al­ready an­nounced cam­paigns for 2024 and Olympic of­fi­cials want to add a U.S. can­di­date.

“It is good for the Olympic move­ment to have games in the U.S.,” Cana­dian IOC mem­ber Dick Pound told the As­so­ci­ated Press.

If se­lected, Los An­ge­les would have to over­come be­ing seen as a sec­ond choice, but ex­perts be­lieve two years should be suf­fi­cient to com­bat that im­age, es­pe­cially if lo­cal sup­port runs high.

That leaves the USOC board with a dif­fi­cult dis­cus­sion. When the mem­bers gather in Red­wood City on Mon­day and Tues­day, the 2024 bid will be fore­most on the agenda.

As Payne said: “They have to ask, ‘Do we think this sit­u­a­tion is go­ing to im­prove sig­nif­i­cantly or are we go­ing to be con­tin­u­ally hit­ting our head against the wall?’ ”

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