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An unusual debate comes to Boston this week. Boston 2024, the group overseeing the bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, will face off in a prime-time debate against the opposition group No Boston Olympics.
Here are a few things to know about the debate and its significance:
When is the debate?
Thursday (July 23) from 8-9 p.m. EST.
Who will be debating?
Boston 2024 Chair Steve Pagliuca and U.S. Olympic Committee board member Daniel Doctoroff will represent the pro-Olympics side. On the other side will be Chris Dempsey, the co-chair of No Boston Olympics, and economist Andrew Zimbalist, the author of “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup.”
Where can I watch/listen to the debate?
The debate, from FOX 25 and The Boston Globe, will air on TV on Fox 25. You can also watch it at bostonglobe.com and myfoxboston.com, as well as the Fox 25 news app. WBUR will also air the debate live, so you can listen on WBUR-FM from 8-9 p.m.
The Globe’s Sacha Pfeiffer and Fox 25's Maria Stephanos will moderate the debate, which will be held at the Fox 25 studio in Dedham. There will be no studio audience.
What’s at stake in this debate?
The debate comes at a crucial time: after months of unfavorable poll numbers, amid referendum efforts and ahead of a September deadline for the USOC to put Boston’s bid to the International Olympic Committee.
The pressure is on for Boston 2024 to drum up more public support for the bid. Last month, after the group released its “bid 2.0,” the USOC lauded the revised plan but said they were not happy with the support numbers in Boston.
“We obviously want to see a positive trend, and the sooner the better,” USOC Chairman Larry Probst said after meeting with Boston 2024.
Probst said the board would like to see support numbers get over 50 percent soon and ultimately in the mid-60s range before the IOC votes for the host city in 2017.
The latest WBUR poll, out earlier this month, found statewide support for the Olympics at 42 percent, while Boston area support for the games was at 40 percent. Here’s a look at statewide poll numbers in recent months:
Here’s a look at Boston area poll numbers in recent months:
The USOC could potentially drop Boston as its candidate for the 2024 games if support does not increase to its liking. In terms of the international competition, polling isn’t the only factor, but higher support numbers would certainly help the USOC in its efforts to put Boston up against cities like Paris, Rome and Hamburg, Germany.
There are also efforts underway to make sure the public gets to vote on whether or not to host the games. Last week, a group of Massachusetts residents called the Olympics Ballot Coalition filed a petition to get a referendum on hosting the 2024 Olympics on the state’s 2016 ballot. The referendum would ban taxpayer spending on the estimated $4.6 billion Olympics, with the exception of transportation projects.
No Boston Olympics said they support the proposal, but are concerned the language in the proposal could still leave taxpayers on the hook for potential cost overruns.
Boston 2024 has said they would pursue a statewide referendum in 2016. Back in March, bid organizers said they wouldn't move forward with the bid if they didn't have a majority of support statewide and in Boston.
Have other cities had TV debates like this over the Olympics?
Not in the U.S., according to Ed Hula, the editor of AroundTheRings.com, an online industry publication that covers the business of the Olympics.
To be clear: In cities vying for the Olympics there are quite often public forums filed with debate and discussion. In Boston there have been community meetings, back-and-forth panel discussions, TV discussions and a radio debate over the city's bid. But Hula said he's never seen a situation where representatives from opposing sides square off in a televised debate.
"We’ve never really had a situation where you have two representatives from the pro side and two representatives against the Olympics coming together in a televised format that I think would have a great deal of impact on the future of the bid," Hula said.
Cities in other countries such as Switzerland and Germany have had referenda in the past over potentially hosting the Olympics, which likely included some discussions or debates, he said.
"There just hasn’t been a situation like this in the United States where a bid has had to prove itself to the public like this," Hula said.
And the debate will certainly give the public another look at how both sides present their cases and defend their positions.
"If the bid comes across looking weak, I think that’s only going to contribute to the difficulty Boston 2024 is having," Hula said. "On the other hand if Boston 2024’s side comes out knowledgeable and informed and with a good case to present, that’s the sort of thing they need to progress with their bid."
What do both sides say about the Olympics — and this debate?
Boston 2024 says bringing the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston would bring thousands of jobs and housing units, spur community developments, and jump-start infrastructure projects.
On the other side, No Boston Olympics calls the summer games a risky and expensive proposition that wouldn't create economic growth and would leave Massachusetts taxpayers footing the bill.
Boston 2024 said they look forward to discussing the bid Thursday night.
"We have always said that constructive discussion and healthy debate will only make our bid stronger," Boston 2024 Chief Operating Officer Erin Murphy said in a statement to WBUR. "We look forward to a productive discussion Thursday and hope it will yield more creative ideas to improve what is an innovative and fiscally responsible effort to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Games back to the United States."
Dempsey, the co-chair of No Boston Olympics, told WBUR’s Curt Nickisch: “Our hope is that we can have a substantive conversation and continue to get out good information and challenge some of the statements that they’re making that we think really don't tell the full story of what Boston 2024 would mean for people here in the commonwealth."
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