City Council starts at the end in Olympics talk

Boston 2024 CEO Richard Davey (right) and Boston USOC and IOC member Angela Ruggiero testified at a hearing on Boston's Olympic bid at City Hall.
Boston 2024 CEO Richard Davey (right) and Boston USOC and IOC member Angela Ruggiero testified at a hearing on Boston's Olympic bid at City Hall. –The Boston Globe

COMMENTARY

Olympic organizing committee Boston 2024 was invited to tell city councilors Monday about how it’s well-suited to win the right to host the 2024 Summer Games. But some councilors were more interested in whether the city should even want to host.

Monday’s hearing was the first of four meetings of a special committee announced by council president Bill Linehan to examine the 2024 Olympics bid. The first meeting centered on the International Olympic Committee’s Agenda 2020, a series of 40 reforms passed last year by the Olympics’ governing body.

Some of the reforms are meant to make bidding for and hosting the Olympics more cost-effective, at least in theory. Agenda 2020 has been at the heart of Boston 2024’s Olympics pitch since the city became the United States Olympic Committee’s bid city earlier this year. Boston’s bid—which uses temporary and existing venues, and which puts construction costs at under $10 billion—is thought to be in keeping with these new principles.

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Linehan asked Boston 2024 and city officials to kick off Monday’s hearing by exploring what Agenda 2020 means for Boston’s bid. How well does the Boston bid fit within the agenda’s parameters? How well aligned are the IOC’s new priorities and the city’s existing ones? For the most part, officials said, it does, and they are.

Angela Ruggiero, a USOC, IOC and Boston 2024 board member, said she believes that with Agenda 2020 in mind, Boston “will have the best model, come 2017 [when a host city is selected], to win.’’

But when the floor opened to all councilors, several of them bypassed the topic altogether.

Michelle Wu implied that if the city signs a guarantee to cover any cost overruns for the Olympics, it could violate Boston’s charter.

Matt O’Malley said he can’t get on-board with the bid without seeing a detailed plan for venues and finances. Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey said several times Monday that new financial and venue details would be available in June.

Ayanna Pressley said she, too, wanted to see a concrete plan, not just for the games themselves but for their long-term legacy.

Tito Jackson said he was concerned about the city’s new in-house Olympic analyst being funded by Boston 2024, suggesting the capacity for a conflict of interest.

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Councilors also raised questions about affordable housing and diversity in hiring and contracting.

Few of these questions were about Agenda 2020, and those that were touched on it lightly. Wu’s comments about the city making a financial guarantee, for example, started as a question of whether Agenda 2020 does away with that requirement. It doesn’t, Ruggiero said, though she said Agenda 2020 may open the door to a private guarantee rather than a governmental one.

The councilors’ questions, however, reflected the concerns of the public that have come up regularly at Olympics-related community meetings. Most Bostonians, polls show, aren’t so sure hosting the Olympics is a good idea. That means they haven’t been asking whether Boston stands a good chance of being selected by the IOC.

After all, that’s what any discussion about Agenda 2020 and the IOC’s reforms is. It’s less a discussion about whether the Olympics are good for Boston, and more a discussion of whether the IOC’s new host city selection criteria is good for Boston’s Olympic bid. And while the IOC’s reforms mean the Olympics may not ask so much of the city, Boston still hasn’t decided whether it wants anything asked to be asked of it at all.

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