4 things we learned from Boston’s Olympics debate

Boston’s Olympic bid was debated Thursday. From left to right: Steve Pagliuca, chairman of Boston 2024; Dan Doctoroff, USOC board member; Chris Dempsey, co-chair of No Boston Olympics; and Andrew Zimbalist, a prominent Olympics critic.
Boston’s Olympic bid was debated Thursday. From left to right: Steve Pagliuca, chairman of Boston 2024; Dan Doctoroff, USOC board member; Chris Dempsey, co-chair of No Boston Olympics; and Andrew Zimbalist, a prominent Olympics critic. –The Boston Globe

Boston loves its sports, and it loves its politics. Ergo, Boston’s Olympic bid was put to a televised debate Thursday night, at a time when bidding group Boston 2024 is seeking to bolster its poll numbers.

The debate was hosted by The Boston Globe and FOX25. Boston 2024’s chairman, Steve Pagliuca, and United States Olympic Committee member Dan Doctoroff squared off against No Boston Olympics co-chair Chris Dempsey and sports economist Andrew Zimbalist.

Here’s what we learned.

1. The financial guarantee isn’t going anywhere.

Dempsey and No Boston Olympics have regularly called for Boston 2024 to reject the International Olympic Committee’s financial guarantee, which requires the host city to backstop any budgetary shortfall.

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Doctoroff said Boston 2024 would need to agree to the guarantee, because its international competition like Paris and Rome would. Boston 2024 says it can remove a significant amount of risk of shortfalls through conservative budgeting and a series of insurance policies it hopes to secure. The group released some details of what its risk management plan may look like less than 24 hours before the debate.

2. Boston 2024 will release its full, original bid on Friday.

The Olympic bid submitted to the USOC last year was subject to serious controversy in the last week, as Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson attempted to subpoena it. On Wednesday night, Boston 2024 said it would release the bid—a redacted version of which was made public in January—early next week. On Thursday night, Pagliuca said it was coming Friday. Never a dull moment for Boston 2024.

3. Steve Pagliuca wants to start over.

Pagliuca, the chairman of the bid committee, which has struggled to gain public support since the winter, took over in late May. While he has been involved with Boston 2024 since its early days, Pagliuca said he did not play a role in some of the early controversial decisions from the group, including its decision not to provide the full version of its original bid sooner. Dempsey argued during the debate that it still took the threat of a subpoena to force the issue.

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4. People care most about the financial implications of the Olympics, but the financial implications of the Olympics don’t make for great TV.

Moderators Sacha Pfeiffer of the Globe and Maria Stephanos of FOX25 pulled the groups out of the trenches a few times as they fought over things like budgetary line items and tax breaks for the Olympic Stadium site at Widett Circle.

Ironically enough, budgetary issues led to the soundbite of the night, when Zimbalist declared Boston 2024’s budget to be one of “drunken optimism.’’ As an example, Zimbalist cited ticket prices for preliminary basketball games. Boston 2024’s side pushed back, instead saying its revenue figures are conservative, and that Zimbalist misunderstood its ticket revenue projections.

So yeah, maybe not great TV. But the debate attracted some attention, with #OlympicsDebate trending nationwide on Twitter.

Boston’s Olympic bid: The players

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