Boston’s Exit from 2024 Olympics Picture Puts L.A. in the Frame

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

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.”  

L.A. does not share all of Boston’s trepidation about the price tag. They hosted the games in 1932 and 1984 and have critical sports venues, like arenas and stadiums, already in place. The latter date was the first year that L.A. native David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH) and editor and publisher of, published “The Complete Book of the Olympics.” 

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.  

But it has not been completely smooth sailing for host cities since 1984. There have been financial successes. And then there was the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia, which cost that country’s citizens nearly $1 billion by conservative estimates. Some folks think the 2004 games in Greece started that country down the road to ruin and may have cost the average household $50,000.   

L.A. and the USOC don’t have a lot of time to make a decision. All bids must be submitted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) by mid-September. Let the games begin.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

L.A.’s Mayor Garcetti Is Mum on Financial Pledge for 2024 Olympics (by Peter Jamison, Los Angeles Times)

Boston’s Bid for Summer Olympics Is Terminated (by Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times)

Does Hosting the Olympics Actually Pay Off? (by Binyamin Appelbaum, New York Times Magazine)

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