October 7, 2009
By John Tienken
Last Friday Chicago lost its bid for the 2016 Olympics when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted for the South American metropolis, Rio de Janeiro. Chicago and the Olympic Bid Team seemed to head to Copenhagen like a seasoned Olympian with only the gold in sights and only the gold expected, but Chicago did not even garner a bronze. To add to the shock that was strewn across the faces of windy city supporters was that utter defeat came in the very first round of voting.
When I am not penning columns for The Journal, I am up north in a small plot of suburbia outside of Chicago. I would be lying if I told you that the Olympics would not have been cool. To see the Olympic flags at Soldier Field as a 26 year old would have been stellar. An opening ceremony echoing across Lake Michigan would be thoroughly remarkable and utterly entrancing to witness. But it is not to be, as much as Go Cubs Go will not be heard in October this year.
The Olympic season is over, lost before the championship game. As Chicago looks back and come to terms with the unsuccessful bid, we should be asking if the Olympics would have been really worth it.
It would have cost tremendous amounts of money, $2.1 billion to be exact. Of course there would be private financiers who would help out, but Olympics generally run way over budget and when the going gets tough in this state, the state tries to get your wallet out ie. fill gaps and deficiencies with more taxpayer money.
Many wanted the Olympics to repair the mass transportation system in Chicago and build new city parks which add to the ambience and urban community of Chicago. However, a report by the federal government said that in order to bring about all the repairs needed to just the transportation system, the city would need to find $6 billion. That would bring the transportation system back to where it was essentially in 1950. An Olympics might have brought about the political will to spend that money, but the real issue is the years of mismanagement that has put the CTA in the hole. Even an Olympics cannot shut out this fact.
The Olympics would have brought $22.5 billion to the state. They would bring business, proponents say. Businesses are taxed mercilessly in this state, which is why they are not here to begin with. Olympics might bring them temporarily, but they would make their profit and depart the Olympic village with the rest of the athletes.
But it is not just an economic issue. Some say graft and corruption are rampant in the city. Would Chicago really want its Olympics tarnished by influence peddling, contracts to politicians’ friends and families, and other smoke filled room tactics? An Olympics should be largely above that, Chicago seems not to be.
You make the call on whether the Olympics would have been worth it to you, but in a greater sense, as Chicago and the state move forward fresh from defeat, we still wear broad shoulders. Instead of distracting ourselves with an Olympic dream, we look in the mirror for the true task before us that can no longer be brushed aside. The Olympics may yet come with a better plan and a city and state in better shape to put on a more spectacular show. We already know that there is progress in the days since, as one observer noted, Chicago couldn’t seem to fix this election.