Olympic-sized questions still loom over Chicago

Chicago-2016From the Saturday, Sept. 25, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Come next summer, while Brazil is strutting its scantily-clad stuff down in Rio during a steamy Carnival-themed Opening Ceremony for the 2016 Summer Games, Chicago will find itself sitting out in the cold.

Just figuratively, hopefully.

However, if you agree with the critics of the Windy City’s failed bid to host the 2016 Olympics, perhaps it’s for the best that we’ll just be chilling.

Chicago Tribune business columnist Phil Rosenthal argued as much last weekend when he wrote that the bad news was that we didn’t get the Games, while the good news was that we didn’t get the Games.

“Whatever Chicago felt about six years ago when International Olympic Committee voters quickly ousted it from finalist contention, ultimately selecting Rio de Janeiro, imagine if they had actually chosen this city,” Rosenthal wrote forebodingly. “The legacy of Olympics for hosts is that of unneeded venues, debt and tightly focused short-term economic boosts that are hard to discern long-term.”

Rosenthal did acknowledge that Chicago 2016 undoubtedly would have been a point of civic pride, a temporary engine for job creation, exciting for many and profitable for a few, but argued that the Summer Games also would have effectively served as a pair of cement shoes for a cash-strapped city just trying to keep its fiscal head above water.

Now, I was a proponent of Chicago 2016 and still believe the Games would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience and an opportunity to promote this beautiful city in a way that no global ad campaign ever could. But at the same time, I don’t disagree with Rosenthal.

Because, even though I do think it is theoretically feasible to stage a strategic and pragmatic Olympics with the construction of minimal new permanent structures, knowing Chicago and corruption – apologies for repeating myself – it’s true that the city probably couldn’t have afforded to host the Games. Cost overruns may have staged their own marathon, and there’s certainly a high probability that taxpayers would have been left with a legacy of painful debt.

Already, that’s the fear for other future Olympics hosts, both confirmed and potential. In Tokyo, which has been selected as the 2020 host, public outrage led government officials to announce last week that they’re scrapping plans for a main Olympic stadium and starting over from scratch after projected building costs ballooned past $2 billion.

Meanwhile, in Boston, many citizens already are pushing for the city to wriggle out of its commitment to serve as the U.S. contender to host the 2024 Olympics. As a safeguard, a group of Massachusetts residents has filed a petition to get a binding referendum on the 2016 ballot that would effectively ban state taxpayer spending on Boston’s estimated $4.6 billion games while making exceptions for transportation projects that have a lasting benefit for the state.

Having personally enjoyed the fantastic subway systems of both London and Barcelona – direct results of the respective 1992 and 2012 Summer Games – It’s such transit upgrades that I think would have been the Olympics’ greatest legacy for Chicago.

We won’t see that now, but perhaps rather than constructing Olympic-worthy cities and potentially saddling them crushing loads of debt, the IOC needs to change the way it operates in today’s political and financial climate. Seemingly, it would be wiser to simply select a handful of cities already capable of hosting the Games – Los Angeles, London and Barcelona, for example – and then rotate the Olympics between them. You know, kind of like the NFL has traditionally done with the Super Bowl.

Although, I don’t think we need a Jersey Games any time soon.

Or another Jersey Super Bowl, for that matter.