The world-wide spectacle that is the International Olympics drew a kind of spotlight Tuesday that it would prefer not to have when the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) dumped Boston as its favored representative in the competition for the 2024 games, with Los Angeles lurking in the shadows.
The sticking point appeared to be money. The committee wanted a commitment in writing from Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh that cost overruns would be covered by public funds, a commitment his constituents did not want him to make. After months of public finger pointing, behind the scenes negotiations and reminders by Olympic officials that folks on the West Coast were eager to host the games, the end was acrimonious.
The mayor fumed, according to the Boston Globe, over not being given a courtesy call before the announcement but he knew it was coming after a Monday press conference where he said, “I cannot commit to putting the taxpayers at risk. If committing to signing a guarantee today is what’s required to move forward, then Boston is no longer pursuing the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
Although Los Angeles has been in the shadows since Boston was selected as the nominee in January—Washington D.C. and San Francisco were also losers—the grin on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s face fairly glowed in the dark.
“I continue to believe that Los Angeles is the ideal Olympic city, and we have always supported the U.S.O.C. in their effort to return the Games to the United States,” Garcetti said in a statement. “I would be happy to engage in discussions with the U.S.O.C. about how to present the strongest and most fiscally responsible bid on behalf of our city and nation.”
But the Los Angeles Times reported that Garcetti was not prepared to unequivocally commit his city’s taxpayers to covering cost overruns, and some observers doubted he could. “I think it would be very difficult for any mayor to sign an agreement where we put taxpayer money at risk,” L.A. political consultant Rick Taylor told the newspaper. “If it didn't happen in 1984, I can't see it happening in 2024.”
Garcetti’s situation is not unlike that of the Boston mayor. He was an early enthusiastic booster for the Olympics, buoyed by support in the business community. But the commitment for cost-overruns is a tough nut for strapped municipalities struggling with basic services. Los Angeles does not have the organized resistance that brought Boston’s bid to a halt, but things could get hot quickly.
Thirty-one years ago, Peter Ueberroth was Time magazine’s Man of the Year and celebrated worldwide for transforming the stodgy Olympics and its dodgy finances into a privately-funded, moneymaking juggernaut in Los Angeles. Eight years earlier, the 1976 Summer Games cost Montreal $1.5 billion and drove the city to the edge of bankruptcy.