US drops bid for 2024 Olympics in Boston: Committee

The Olympic rings at the Madureira Park ahead the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The Olympic rings at the Madureira Park ahead the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. PHOTO: REUTERS

BOSTON (REUTERS) - The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) on Monday nixed Boston's bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, just hours after Mayor Martin Walsh said he would not "commit" to a deal if it left city taxpayers vulnerable to the costs of hosting such the large-scale event.

"We have not been able to get a majority of the citizens of Boston to support hosting the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games," said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun, in a statement. "Therefore the USOC does not think that the level of support enjoyed by Boston's bid would allow it to prevail over great bids from Paris, Rome, Hamburg, Budapest or Toronto," it added.

The proposal made in January to put Boston forth as the US' candidate to host the 2024 Summer Games was immediately met with skepticism, with polls showing voters intensely concerned that taxpayers would be left to foot the bill for the global event.

Massachusetts officials had wanted more time before deciding whether to back the bid, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said hours after Mayor Walsh said he wouldn't sign the bid documents if they left city taxpayers vulnerable.

"I'm not going to question whatever decision the US Olympic Committee makes," Mr Baker told reporters. "If our time frame wasn't one that working with how the US Olympic Committee was thinking about this, that's unfortunate but there's nothing we can do about it."

Backers of the bid had scrambled to assuage residents' concerns about the cost, last week unveiling a plan to carry some US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) in insurance that it said would cover any unanticipated costs. In total, the event's costs were estimated at more than US$8.6 billion including operating and construction costs.

They said they were designing a lower-cost approach to the games in line with the International Olympic Committee's "Agenda 2020", which is intended to combat the rising spending levels that broke records during recent games in Beijing and Sochi, Russia. Russia spent some US$50 billion on the 2014 Winter Games.

Mr Walsh said he had liked the idea of hosting the games, but ultimately was not convinced it was affordable. "No benefit is so great that it is worth handing over the financial future of our city and our citizens were rightly hesitant to be supportive as a result," Mr Walsh said.

Just 42 per cent of Boston-area respondents to a WBUR/Mass Inc poll published earlier this month said they supported the idea of hosting the games, with half against it. Three out of four respondents said they worried taxpayer funds would be required to stage the games.

Officials had backed a proposal to put the matter to voters in a ballot initiative next year, during the presidential election cycle.

"The many elected officials in Boston 2024's corner looked the other way for months, even when it became clear that Boston 2024 had been less than truthful about what it wanted from taxpayers," said Mr Evan Falchuk, a former gubernatorial candidate who had led the drive for a ballot initiative.

"What those officials couldn't ignore was the real, credible threat of a binding vote, which is what ultimately led to the USOC pulling the bid."

The No Boston Olympics lobby group, which had formed to oppose the bid, welcomed the decision on Monday.

"We need to move forward as a city, and today's decision allows us to do that on our own terms, not the terms of the USOC or the (International Olympic Committee," the group said in a statement. "We're better off for having passed on Boston 2024."