UPDATE 2: Interesting pattern in the Olympic voting. Tokyo actually lost votes in the 2nd round, which shouldn't happen if everyone is voting their first choice and there are only minutes between rounds. But what if you are a group of Rio supporters confident Rio can beat Madrid and Tokyo, but worried about a close head-to-head showdown with Chicago? You might vote for the weakest bid, Tokyo, in order to push it over Chicago. With Chicago out (and presumably many Chicago voters switching their votes to Rio in order to keep the games in the American time zones) you can then switch your votes to Rio in rounds two through four.
(Note that odds-on/sentimental favorite Rio finished 2nd in the first round to Madrid.)
I have no idea, but it explains the pattern. And it would be poetic if Chicago lost the bid due to backroom political trickery.
MORE: Philip Hersh in the Chicago Tribune: "The answers include the nature of a secret ballot, sympathy votes, some flawed intelligence gathering, and skilled Rio electioneering to make sure Chicago did not make the final round."
Just before Noon Central Time today, a guy with an accent and an expensive suit is going to step in front of a podium in Copenhagen and say something like, "The International Olympic Committee awards the 2016 summer games to the city of..." and then he'll pause just slightly to heighten the drama before he says, Rio de Janeiro. Or Chicago. Or Madrid. Or Tokyo.
But probably not Madrid or Tokyo.
I wasn't born in Chicago but I choose to live here over anywhere else, which should be proof enough that I love this city. Nevertheless, I'm at best ambivalent about a Chicago Olympics. I like the Olympics a lot, but I also like sunsets. I've never felt an urge to be any closer to either of them than I already am.
The people who want to bring the Olympics to Chicago promise the event will deliver jobs by the tens of thousands and that cash will rain on the city like shotput-sized hail. Other people who study the history of such things say, maybe, but it's never happened before. When you take into account all the costs of staging an Olympic games, no municipality, including Los Angeles in 1984, has ever shown a net profit from the Olympics. Montreal spent 30 years repaying its Olympic debt.
Maybe that guy in Copenhagen should announce instead, "For agreeing reluctantly to take on the cost and inconvenience of the summer games, the International Olympic Committee wishes to thank..."
Of course, there are intangible benefits to having the Olympics, and if we get them I don't doubt I'll feel both excitement and pride when the games actually roll around and this beautiful city is showcased for the world. I'll be thrilled for local athletes who suddenly find their backyard transformed into the biggest stage on the planet. I have friends and family in Atlanta and none of them seem to have any regrets about the Olympics there. Still, I'm not sure what I'd risk for such abstract and distant pleasures and the bid team knows this, which is why they make it sound like the very economic future of the city depends entirely on javelins being tossed about in Washington Park.
Last spring I got a call from a guy at a decent-sized advertising agency in Chicago (not the one for which I used to work). They were producing some videos for Chicago 2016 and they had an idea to ask some Chicago writers to contribute copy for the voice over. There was a catch, though. Several actually. It had to be done fast, it had to be great, and they were working pro bono so they couldn't pay me.
I was too busy to work on a fire drill project so I didn't have to sift through my Olympic ambivalence before coming up with an answer. But after I hung up, something bothered me about the request. It wasn't just that they didn't want to pay me. I wondered more about why Chicago 2016 wasn't paying the ad agency.
The old joke ad folks usually tell clients when they walk in the door is this: "We can do great work, we can do fast work, and we can do cheap work. You get to choose two." But from this agency the bid committee was asking for all three.
Chicago 2016 isn't a charity case. They have a budget of almost $50 million just for the pitch. Somebody's getting paid for all these presentations. Somebody's getting paid a lot of money, in fact. The answer, obviously, is this particular shop was betting that if Chicago gets the Olympics, their pro bono work on the bid would be remembered and they'd get some high-paying, high-profile assignment for the main event. It was a campaign donation, essentially, but instead of giving money to a politician in hopes for some quid pro quo, they were donating their billings to a politician's pet project. Only people on the inside are making money now. The agency, which is on the outside, was giving away its work so it could get on the inside, where it could make money later.
The whole Olympics is going to be like this--a game in which Chicagoans will be made to feel like they should be emotionally invested when the real players will be behind the scenes: the guys with contracts waiting to be signed, and properties on the Olympic venue Monopoly board (Note: The Outfit's own David Heinzmann has been doing some terrific reporting on this at the Trib). Maybe the games will lose money on the whole, but some people, people on the inside, are going to make Benjamins by the bagful. These are the people who exaggerate the benefits, who make it sound like Chicago needs the Olympics more than the Olympics needs Chicago (a dubious claim if only because the IOC stands to make another half billion or so in television rights for summer games on US soil) so that you'll support an endeavor that will line their pockets. It should be our responsibility to consider their promises skeptically, to shed light on their conflicts of interest.
Ben Joravsky, one of Chicago's most eloquent skeptics, has an excellent piece in the Reader this week, detailing all the reasons Chicago shouldn't want the games. I won't repeat his arguments, although you should read them for yourself, especially if Chicago wins this morning. Joravsky ends the piece asking why, if so many aldermen have so many concerns and doubts about the games, the city council voted unanimously to put the city on the hook financially for any cost overruns:
"There's no point in voting no—it only pisses off the mayor and I don't need that," I was told by one alderman who didn't want his name used in print.
Besides, he added, "We're not getting the games—Rio's getting them. You heard it here first."
And if you're wrong? I asked him.
NOTE: Ben Joravsky will be on WGN720 AM after 7:30 tonight to talk about the bid.
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