While I’m a little saddened for dashed hopes, I’m mostly relieved by the decision of the US Olympic Committee and Boston 2024 to cancel Boston’s Olympics bid. For me, as for many others, the risks associated with the Olympics appeared too great for the Commonwealth to backstop. The question has been whether the private proponents of the Olympics could accept those risks or whether they would insist on the Commonwealth backstopping those risks as a condition of moving forward.
I congratulate Mayor Walsh for standing tough before the Olympic Committee’s demand to sign a host city agreement that would put the taxpayers on the hook for an essentially unlimited exposure. At a press conference hours before the USOC’s decision, he is quoted as having said:
I cannot commit to putting the taxpayers at risk. If committing to sign a guarantee today is what’s required to move forward, then Boston is no longer pursuing the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The Mayor had previously been clear about his unwillingness to put the full faith and credit of the City behind what is fundamentally a private bid, but the organizers seemed to continue to hope, and opponents continued to fear, that somehow he would be persuaded to sign as final guarantor if the organizers laid off enough risk through insurance policies. It seemed clear to me and to many that there would be significant risks on both the cost and revenue side that are fundamentally uninsurable — for example, the possibility of large construction cost overruns on sports venues and the potential loss of planned revenue from the games if adverse world events prevented them from being held. Requiring the organizers to accept these risks themselves would assure that they took a truly “sustainable” approach to the Olympics, but their “2.0” proposal continued to presume that the City would accept those risks. The Mayor stayed true to his stated unwillingness to accept those risks and for that I am grateful.
At the state level, I also congratulate Governor Baker, Senate President Rosenberg and Speaker Deleo for sticking to their own stated timetable for assessing those risks. They defined a schedule for carefully assessing the risks months ago and put in place a study process that was to yield an assessment next month. Ultimately, the state would have been required to also guaranty the risks of the games. Governor Baker has been studiously neutral on the question, waiting for the proposals to take final form and the agreed review process to complete — a responsible approach. The legislature has been in the same place, including language in the budget to assure that no funds would be expended or and no guaranty would be executed without legislative approval:
SECTION 193. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, no agency as defined in section 14C of chapter 7 of the General Laws or other entity created by the general court shall expend any state funds or tax expenditures, except for the purpose of analysis and due diligence, or incur any liability, indebtedness or obligation, by guaranty, indemnification agreement, bond undertaking or otherwise, for the purpose of procuring, hosting, aiding, facilitating, or remediating the effects of, hosting the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad in 2024 unless the general court enacts a special act authorizing the expenditure of state funds for such purposes following at least 1 public hearing conducted by the house and senate committees on ways and means acting individually or jointly. The committees may conduct more than 1 public hearing in geographically diverse locations within the commonwealth. Nothing in this section shall be interpreted to waive any other requirement for appropriation or approval in any law, rule or regulation.
Today, the IOC heard the Mayor and the Governor repeat what they have been saying all along, but the clarity today — perhaps combined with other evolving perceptions of Boston’s bid as a result of the legislation and the public debate — was sufficient to lead the IOC and Boston 2024 to cancel the bid.
The upside for the Olympics was real and the organizers are to be congratulated for putting the concept forward. But I do feel that the downside risk was never fully acknowledged by the organizers and that the vision of a truly sustainable down-scale Olympics was never quite real; the fit for Boston was never really there. We should be proud as a Commonwealth for the robust debate we’ve had and I thank all who have participated in it — it looks to me like we just dodged a bullet.