Mass. governor: ‘I would not have been able or willing’ to endorse Olympic bid

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a press conference following the announcement that the USOC selected Boston as its applicant city in January—the day after his inauguration.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a press conference following the announcement that the USOC selected Boston as its applicant city in January—the day after his inauguration. –EPA

If the United States Olympic Committee hadn’t moved on from Boston as its bidding city in July, it may have done so today. Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that, based on the results of a state-commissioned study about the bid, he “would not have been able or willing to provide the guarantees the USOC was looking for.’’

Baker said the report, released earlier in the day and conducted by Cambridge-based consulting firm The Brattle Group, showed the bid “demonstrated significant risks.’’ He said bidding group Boston 2024 may have been able to mitigate the financial risks with more time, but that at this point he would not have been able to get on board.

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The Brattle Group’s report said Boston and the state could have been exposed to financial risks because of the possibility of Olympic-related cost overruns. It also suggested Boston 2024 had underestimated some of the costs to the state for transportation projects.

When the USOC chose Boston in January as its bidding city, it chose a city in a state whose governor had just been inaugurated, and who had not offered his support to the plan. Throughout the spring and summer, Baker said he would need to wait for the results of the state study, which went out to bid in March, before he could take a position.

When the USOC pressured Baker to show his hand last month, he said he still was unready to say where he stood.

“I don’t apologize for that,’’ Baker said Tuesday, about waiting on the report before taking a position.

Baker spoke highly of the Olympic bidding process as “a very unique planning exercise,’’ and said he remained intrigued by some of the projects it included, such as redevelopment of Widett Circle. He also said the Brattle report provides a look at the potential costs and opportunities related to some of those projects.

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The Brattle report said the city and the state likely would have been on the hook for any budgetary shortfalls, because the International Olympic Committee requires host governments to financially backstop the games. Baker pointed to this aspect of Olympic bids in a Tuesday afternoon press conference.

“The International Olympic Committee makes a lot of the rules but [doesn’t take on] a lot of the risk,’’ he said. “The USOC makes a lot of the rules but not a lot of risk. The city and the state—the hosts—don’t make a lot of the rules but carry most of the risk.’’

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh had a more complex relationship with the bid: He fully endorsed it, worked closely with the bidding group, and committed in writing to signing a host-city agreement with the IOC, which would have included the financial guarantee to cover cost overruns.

But in the months after Boston was selected, he distanced himself from his prior position, saying he needed to see adequate risk mitigation in place before he could make the commitment. On the same day Baker told the USOC he could not formally take a position, Walsh publicly said he could not yet agree to the financial guarantee—another factor in the USOC’s decision to pull the plug that day.

“Many of the concerns raised in the report mirror the same questions Mayor Walsh had throughout the bidding process,’’ Walsh spokeswoman Laura Oggeri said Tuesday.

The USOC is now looking to bid with Los Angeles.

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