BOB SALSBERG, Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) — The group behind Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics said Tuesday that it wants the residents of Massachusetts to decide whether the effort to bring the games to the city should go forward.
John Fish, chairman of Boston 2024, told a gathering of business leaders that the privately funded organization would help gather signatures to put a referendum on the November 2016 state ballot. Fish made the announcement during a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
If the referendum were defeated, Fish promised that the group would end its bid and not submit a final proposal to the International Olympic Committee. He went further, saying that even if the Olympic effort were endorsed by voters statewide but rejected within the city of Boston, the organization would still pull the plug.
The IOC is expected to choose a host for the 2024 games in 2017. Boston, selected by the United States Olympic Committee as the U.S. bid city, is expected to face competition from several world cities, including Rome and Hamburg, Germany.
Boston 2024 would work prior to the referendum to construct the best possible bid before leaving it to voters to “make the final decision on whether we have achieved those goals,” said Fish, the chief executive of Suffolk Construction Co. , who spoke before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
Mayor Marty Walsh, a strong proponent of the Olympic bid, said in endorsing the referendum that if the city is to be successful in pursuing the games it must have the backing of residents.
The USOC said it remained confident in Boston as America’s bid city while also expressing full support for holding a referendum.
“Great achievements are often preceded by great skepticism,” USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a statement.
Public skepticism appears to be reflected in recent polls, including one conducted for WBUR-FM that revealed only 36 percent support for the bid among the more than 500 Boston-area residents surveyed.
Critics have questioned claims by Boston 2024 that no state or city funds would be required to pay operating costs for the games. On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders announced plans to hire a consultant to advise them on the Olympic bid, specifically on whether state taxpayers would be on the hook for any cost overruns.
Boston 2024 also faced controversy after disclosing that a consulting agreement with former Gov. Deval Patrick called for him to be paid $7,500 for each day he traveled overseas on behalf of organizers. Patrick later announced that he would forgo the consulting gig.
The state’s top elections official said Tuesday that the wording of an Olympic ballot measure would be critical.
“It has to be as straightforward question,” said Secretary of State William Galvin. “If you want it, you vote yes, if you don’t want it, you vote no.”
Galvin also suggested that an easier route to the ballot, apart from gathering tens of thousands of signatures, would be to simply ask the Legislature to approve a non-binding referendum. While such a question would not have the force of law, he said there should be no dispute if all parties agreed to abide by the results.
A group formed to oppose the bid said it hoped to work with the Olympic supporters to craft appropriate language.
“We need to ask voters if taxpayers should be on the hook if things don’t go according to Boston 2024’s plan,” said No Boston Olympics, in a statement.
The organizing group has said its $9.1 billion operating budget would come from a variety of sources, including corporate sponsorships, TV revenue, ticket sales and federal security funding and that insurance policies would be secured to protect against cost overruns.
“Boston 2024 believes that the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be good for Boston, and will create thousands of jobs, drive economic development, and serve as a catalyst for the long-term plans of Boston,” Fish said. “As we pursue this goal, we are committed to the highest level of transparency and accountability.”
“The bid will be stronger with a majority of citizens of Massachusetts and Boston in support,” added Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey. “We’re very confident that the Games will improve our city and our state with great jobs and great economic opportunity. It will showcase the best of Boston on a world stage. We look forward to making our case.”
Fish added that voter approval will be essential to the bid as the International Olympic Committee places a high priority on local support in selecting host cities. He also said that Boston – with its 100-plus universities and world-renowned innovation, research and medical sectors – is well positioned to meet new standards set by the IOC’s Agenda 2020 reform package. Approved in December by the IOC, Agenda 2020 encourages the use of existing, temporary and re-useable facilities.
“We believe our bid will be fiscally and socially responsible and will set a new international standard for a sustainable Games,” Fish said. “It is our intent to bring the Games back to the United States and host an event that will propel the Olympic and Paralympic movements forward for a new generation.”
Associated Press national writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.
BOB SALSBERG, Associated Press