BOSTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Olympic Committee on Monday rescinded Boston's bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games after the mayor said his city's taxpayers could not afford to host the large-scale event.
The move was met with relief by Massachusetts officials, who had faced an active opposition campaign that fought the idea of hosting the Summer Games, forecast to cost more than $8.6 billion, from the moment the USOC in January picked Boston over other major U.S. cities including Los Angeles, Washington and San Francisco.
The USOC said it still hoped to pick a U.S. candidate to compete for the games, against a lineup including Paris, Rome, Budapest and Hamburg, Germany.
"We have not been able to get a majority of the citizens of Boston to support hosting the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games," USOC Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun said in a statement. "Therefore the USOC does not think that the level of support enjoyed by Boston's bid would allow it to prevail."
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who had been noncommittal in his support, said he had been waiting for a report by a private consultancy due next month before deciding whether to throw his weight behind the bid. He said USOC officials had pushed him to make a decision earlier than that.
His statement came hours after Mayor Marty Walsh said he would not sign the bid documents if they left city taxpayers vulnerable to cost overruns.
"No benefit is so great that it is worth handing over the financial future of our city," Walsh said.
Backers of the bid had scrambled to assuage residents' concerns about the cost, last week unveiling a plan to carry some $2 billion in insurance that it said would cover any unanticipated 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 $50 billion on the 2014 Winter Games.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said his city, which hosted one of the most successful games in U.S. history in 1984, was interested in taking Boston's place.
"Los Angeles is the ideal Olympic city," Garcetti said. "I would be happy to engage in discussions with the USOC about how to present the strongest and most fiscally responsible bid on behalf of our city and nation."
In Washington, a spokeswoman for Mayor Muriel Bowser said it was "too early to say" what the move meant for the capital's Olympic hopes.
Just 42 percent 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.
The timing of the choice, which came at the start of a winter that Boston received a record-setting 9 feet (2.7 m) of snow, exposing weaknesses in the city's roads and transit systems, also served to sour public opinion on the games.
"The 'T' is a mess as it is," said Christina Wingerter, a 24-year-old student, using the nickname for the city's subway system. "No way it could handle millions of people."
The No Boston Olympics lobby group, which had formed to oppose the bid, welcomed the decision.
"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."
Officials had backed a proposal to put the matter to voters in a ballot initiative next year, during the presidential election cycle.
The move to hold the referendum just months before the IOC is expected to pick a host city, likely encouraged the USOC to drop Boston and give it more time to find an alternate candidate, observers said.
Robert Boland, a professor of sports administration at Ohio University who specializes in the Olympics, added that city officials had done little to drum up public support for the bid during the competition with other U.S. cities.
"Boston was left standing alone rather than competing and that made it harder to drum up public support," Boland said. "The minute you get something you begin to think about not wanting it."
Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Ian Simpson in Washington and Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Sandra Maler, Eric Beech and Bernard Orr