Chicago Loses It’s 2016 Olympic Bid

The news came today, October 2nd, that the City of Chicago, Illinois had lost their bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The winning bid was submitted by Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Prior to the announcement of the winning bid most people considered Chicago and Rio to be the two front runners. However, of the final four cities, Chicago was eliminated first. This was a genuine shock to those who were awaiting the announcement of the winning city. There are a lot of people everywhere, including many outside of Chicago and not directly involved in the city’s bid, who were genuinely shocked by the announcement.

President Obama was formerly a senator from Illinois; and both he and the First Lady publicly proclaimed their support for Chicago’s Olympic bid. First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark for the final push along with a delegation of local and national celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, and former Olympians such as Bart Conner, Nadia Comeneci, and Jackie Joyner Kersee. Unfortunately President Obama received a great deal of criticism for becoming involved in the effort to bring the Olympic Games to his adopted home town. While some supported his personal attempt to bolster Chicago’s bid, others proclaimed the trip to be a waste of time and money, claimed the President should not become personally involved, and that he had more important things to attend to both at home and abroad. During a news broadcast I watched on CNN October 1, one of the guests, a member of the DNC, pointed out that current and former heads of state from Brazil, Great Britain, Canada, Italy, Germany, Greece and several other countries had all personally been involved in their country’s Olympic bids for the 2016 and other Games. The Republican strategist who was the other guest responded they were not the President of the United States and our President had never previously become involved and should not be involved now. Why not? Within minutes of Chicago’s elimination from consideration, some of the same critics were already saying the President did not spend enough time in Copenhagen and that he should have stayed there longer. Others had already posted comments in various locations making it clear they were happy Chicago had lost because they figured it would be another way to slam or embarrass the President.

The flap over the city of Chicago’s Olympics bid is another frustration for supporters of President Obama. As stated above numerous heads of state have been involved in bid attempts for cities in their home country. It seems reasonable and even logical for the President of the most powerful country in the world to also become involved. Some of the backlash against him doing so appears to be nothing more than critics jumping on whatever they can to criticize the President and not any real issue with the Olympics being held in Chicago. There are people who simply can not allow the President to do anything without slamming him for doing it. Too many of these people don’t even take the time to carefully examine the issue(s) involved before they launch an attack. We all know there are many critical issues facing this country; however, how is the President taking a few hours of his time to ask the International Olympic Committee to return the Olympics to the United States and the Western Hemisphere going to have a major detrimental impact on an economic recovery, for example? Though there were those who were against the Olympics coming to Chicago in the first place, those people are not necessarily the same people who were against President Obama becoming personally involved in the city’s bid.

One of the criticisms of bringing the Olympics to any city is the heavy cost of staging them. There is no way of denying the Olympics cause a great deal of money to stage, or that a number of cities end up in serious debt over the cost. There are only a few cities (Los Angeles in 1984, and the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway are two examples) that have turned a profit, broken even or not been burdened with debt after taking on the Olympic Games. Not only did Lillehammer not burden itself with debt, they also finished all the facilities six months early. Los Angeles picked up corporate sponsorships for some venues and used existing facilities such as Pauley Pavilion at UCLA and the legendary Los Angeles Olympic Stadium from the 1932 Games to stage some events. Other cities have found uses for facilities after the games, such as turning athlete’s dorms into condominiums or apartments. However, many cities basically build almost everything from scratch. And one critique I heard yesterday has been true in some cases; that many of the facilities built specifically for Olympic events end up sitting empty after the Games or seldom get used.

At the same time you worry about the cost of staging the Olympics, you also can also note that building facilities for staging the events and housing the athletes, coaches and officials creates jobs. There is really no way this particular point can be disputed. Those jobs put people to work, and the money they earn not only helps the workers and their families but also stimulates the local economy. One article I read regarding Chicago’s Olympic bid contained a statement from an unemployed man who was disappointed the city had lost it’s bid. He was hoping to secure one of the jobs he knew would be created if the Games came to Chicago.

If one Super Bowl game generates tens of millions of dollars for the city that hosts it, how much money will the thousands of tourists who stay in hotels, purchase souvenirs and visit local attractions and restaurants generate over the sixteen day period the Olympiad lasts? If the host city does a good job of staging an Olympics, won’t that city also have gained prestige on the world stage?

So, if Chicago was once considered the 2016 front runner, why did they not only lose the bid, but in the final round of four get eliminated first? There are a number of reasons for this.

First, there is always politics involved in these decisions. I don’t mean the same sort of partisan politics we see in the United States between the Republican and Democrats, for example. However, anyone who knows anything about the International Olympic Committee knows there is always some intrigue or politics involved in almost any decision they make. It’s probably doubtful the IOC could accomplish anything without politics and intrigue being involved.

Second, it’s no secret the IOC and the United States Olympic Committee do not get along. This was mentioned in the last few days in more than one article or report on the subject of Chicago’s Olympic bid. In addition the IOC has a tendency to look down on sports considered to be ‘too American’ such as baseball and aerial skiing (though one has to wonder about sports that are ‘too Nordic’ or ‘too Slavic’, etc not being looked at the same way), and the USA in general when it comes to hosting the Olympics.

Third, it’s already been mentioned in several places that several Asian countries apparently banded together to boost Tokyo’s bid. Of the four finalists Tokyo had been considered the weakest prior to the final vote, and was expected to be eliminated first.

Fourth, Brazilian officials pointed out the Olympics had never been held in a South American country and that they felt it was time they were held in a city there. The closest city to South America was the Mexico City Games of 1968, so this was probably a valid claim to make.

Fifth, Juan Antonio Samaranch, a native of Spain and former President of the International Olympic Committee, made a last minute appeal to support Madrid’s bid. Samaranch went as far as to say he was eighty nine years old, did not have much time left and would like to see the Olympics held in Madrid in his lifetime. Most expected Madrid to be eliminated after Tokyo.

Sixth, I have no idea. I and many others thought Chicago had put in the best bid and frankly that the city was going to get the 2016 Olympic Games. However, no one asked me for my opinion.

One issue that was probably not a large consideration was the crime rate in Chicago. The winning city of Rio De Janeiro also has a high crime rate; and, as someone pointed out this morning, if the IOC was genuinely worried about the crime rate they could have just handed the Games to Tokyo which clearly is the city with the lowest crime rate of the four finalists.

There are also issues involving the logistics of providing food, transportation, housing, training facilities and personal items to all the athletes, officials and coaches. And, of course, people always worry about corruption between contractors, local officials and committee members.

Another issue is security. No one who has ever followed the Olympics can forget the terrible tragedy of the murder of the eleven Israeli athletes and coaches during the 1972 Games in Munich. No one involved in the Olympic movement as either a fan, athlete, coach or official EVER wants to see anything like this tragic security breach happen again. This incident slammed home the need for security at both the Olympic venues and within the Olympic Village. The host city must provide a secure environment for not only their own committee members, volunteers and workers; but in addition they must provide a secure environment for thousands of athletes, coaches, officials, fans, tourists and foreign dignitaries. Most large cities in a country such as the United States, Great Britain, Australia or Japan, for example, already have a certain amount of security infrastructure in place. This was an issue for Greece when they hosted the 2004 Olympic Games, and it will certainly be an issue for Rio De Janeiro in 2016. Even though the Olympics originated in Greece, they had a great deal of difficulty not only with finishing venues and facilities, but also with security. The head of the Athens Olympic Organizing Committee quit over bickering and politics, and construction and security preparations fell so far behind the IOC considered pulling the Games out of Athens. Facilities were still being worked on two months before the Games begin, and fourteen workers died during construction. Countries such as the USA and Great Britain offered their help training security personnel, the head of the committee was lured back and the 2004 Olympics stayed in Athens. There were similar issues involving the 2008 Games in Beijing, China. The construction of some facilities in that city literally went down to the wire, and some tourists were stabbed while sightseeing.

One can only hope that Rio De Janeiro can pull the 2016 Olympics Games off. Brazil is a developing country economically, and while Rio may not necessarily need physical help to pull it off; they almost certainly will need (and hopefully ask for and accept) advice regarding security, organization and logistics. Good luck to Rio De Janeiro, and maybe there will be another time for Chicago.

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