Jun 30, 2015 8:54 PM

USOC leaders stay course, stick with Boston's troubled bid

The Associated Press

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (AP) Leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee are sticking with Boston as a candidate for the 2024 Olympics, knowing full well that getting the city to the starting line in this contest could be as tough as actually landing the games.

The USOC board met Tuesday to discuss the Boston bid, which has been troubled by tepid polling data and opponents who, among other things, don't want taxpayers footing the bill for a huge international event.

Thoughts that the board might turn elsewhere or pull the plug altogether were put on hold. They were replaced by a show of support for the Boston 2024 team, now under new management, along with a not-so-subtle nod to the reality that the city needs to find a support level among its residents well above the current low to mid-40 percent range.

"We want to see a positive trend, and the sooner the better," said USOC chairman Larry Probst, who was joined by CEO Scott Blackmun and the leaders of the Boston bid at a news conference. "We want to see it get to 50 percent relatively soon, and ultimately get to the mid-60s range, certainly before the vote of the IOC."

That vote comes in 2017, but the key date is Sept. 15, 2015, which is when all cities must declare themselves candidates. Probst made reference to "circling back" with the Boston leadership in the next few weeks, and both Probst and Blackmun said they'd be monitoring the polling numbers carefully.

Boston joins Paris, Rome and Hamburg, Germany as the officially declared candidates.

Had the board wanted more certainty, it could have ditched Boston and looked to Los Angeles an awkward and difficult choice that may have netted a better final result because Los Angeles has hosted the Olympics twice and there has been talk that some IOC members would like a "safer" American choice.

Instead, the USOC said it was all-in with Boston, which unveiled its new "Bid 2.0" to the public on Monday.

"I've seen their presentation five times in the last six days, and each time, it keeps getting better," Probst said.

So, the board decided the right thing to do was to see how that plan plays out before simply walking away. The $4.6 billion blueprint was filled with before-missing specifics about venues and cost. Probst and Blackmun said they were impressed with the man who will oversee it: Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca, who replaced John Fish as chairman nearly six weeks ago.

"We've had so many conversations with Scott that he hasn't had time to talk to anyone else," Pagliuca deadpanned, after Blackmun was asked if anyone at the USOC had, in fact, had conversations with Los Angeles.

The answer: An emphatic "No."

"We're focused exclusively with Boston," Blackmun said.

For now, at least.

A referendum on the Olympics is set for next year in Massachusetts and Boston 2024 leaders have vowed to pull out of the race if it doesn't win.

That's why the polling trends are so crucial, and that's why Tuesday's "announcement" certainly doesn't end this debate, but rather, kicks it down the road.

Much of the handwringing in Boston has been about public funding. Pagliuca described an intricate, $128 million insurance plan that gave Boston "five levels of protection" against cost overruns, contractor bailouts and the sort of things the IOC wants guarantees for before awarding its premier event to any city.

"Nothing in life is risk-free," Pagliuca said. "I could walk off the podium and trip on the carpet. But this is five layers of protection. People will look at it and say the risk is limited and small, but the reward is great."

His task is to get the word out about the 4,100 construction jobs, 7,000 new apartment units and $362 million in tax revenue that a Boston Olympics could generate.

He has a big sales job ahead. Shortly after the news conference, the opposition group "No Boston Olympics" tweeted pictures of residents at a rally. Many held up signs saying schools and infrastructure were higher priorities than hosting the games.

"Citizens want better schools, better transit, not a 3wk, taxpayer-backed event in 2024," the tweet said.

All this is set against a backdrop that indicates now should be a great time for the United States to be bidding.

The U.S. hasn't hosted a Summer Games since 1996. An Associated Press-GfK poll from last week found 89 percent of Americans would like to see the an Olympics on home turf, though the support dwindled to 61 percent when respondents were asked if they would want the games in their local area.

"I love seeing those polling numbers," Blackmun said. "They speak to the fact that, as a nation, we want to see the Olympic Games in the United States. ... The games always create questions in the city where they've been chosen to be held."

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