Thursday, October 8th
Like most Chicagoans, I was, to say the least, a little surprised by the decision not to have Chicago as the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. You would think a jaded, old cynic such as yours truly would know better, but Ill admit, they got me. When the idea of the games in Chicago was first announced, my first impression was, cool, Ill finally get to go to one. Again, this was a purely romantic notion, not a practical one. I was reminded of this in my conversations at the bar about the bid. Most of the people I talked to were split: Half of the people loved the idea of the games as a way to show off our city and participate in a world event. The others thought that all of the political wrangling and corruption that would come with it, not to mention the disruption of their lives here during the games, was too big a price to pay, let someone else have it! For me none of the thoughts of congestion in the city, availability of any tickets, price gouging of everything (Parking? Are you kidding me? Then again I could just do it on the Ryan!) and most important, the politics involved came to mind. The way I look at it, Ive dealt with all of these things my whole life anyway! I was merely thinking of my many indelible memories of the Olympics, which were mostly of athletic feats and endeavors.
It should be viewed as ironic that my first real memory of the Olympics was in 1972. The horror that happened in Munich was a bit much for a 10 year old to fathom. What I could understand though, was the fact that the U.S. basketball team got robbed of a gold medal. Can they really just add time to the clock? I asked. It wasnt until many years later that I realized that controversial decisions on and off the field of play were just part of the whole Olympic package, in fact, they sometimes heightened the experience.
In the next games held four years later, I was mesmerized by Franz Klammers electrifying downhill in Innsbruck. It was really the first time that I understood what it meant for these athletes to represent their country, and the pressure that comes with it. Since then, I could list probably a combination of around 100 individuals and national teams that anyone would know the story of (Olga, Mary Lou, Tanya, Sugar Ray, Greg..etc.). The packaging and the pageantry of the Olympic Games was, and is, something to behold. Will anyone forget Michael Phelps' reach to the finish of the race that he appeared to have lost? It will live forever. What will also live forever are the names of the cities that have hosted the Games. Now some of the Winter Games have been held in slightly remote locations, since they need mountains, thats going to happen, but the host cities of the Summer Games are ones that no one will forget. I can list the ones of my lifetime off the top of my head without thinking. I thought that Chicago would be a worthy name on that list.
So, as the process was going on, I paid only a little attention to it: One, because it would take a while and two, because if anyone knew how to work the system it would be this town. The term, Chicago politics exists for a reason! I would just wait until the announcement, sure of the name I would hear. One thing that gave me confidence was the fact that from every estimate that I saw, the most money, for all, would be made by having Chicago as the host city. Now if theres one thing thats spoken in every language, its the word: profit. The folks at the I.O.C. (International Olympic Committee) dont exactly have a great reputation when it comes to graft and corruption. In fact, from the things that came out in wake of the Salt Lake City bid scandal, theyre brazen and obscene about it. The thing that came from that incident for me, is that they had the feeling that they were above us all, that as the caretakers of such a precious entity, that they should be pampered and given anything they want. Whatever! Of course, since then they have promised that their process of city selection is a pure one. Yeah, right. The funny thing is, I thought this would play into our hands. Chicago knows how to play this game! We were obvious front-runners, the conventional wisdom being: Rio was too dangerous and unpredictable. Tokyo was done in by being too close in time to Beijing. Likewise for Madrid being too close (next up) to London in 2012. My concern was because of the old-boy network involved, that the bid of Madrid was being organized by Juan-Antonio Sammarachs son. Now the elder is a player. He ran the show for 21 years. I knew he would be shown a lot of respect, but still, the I.O.C. has shown an unwillingness to put consecutive Games close together geographically. So, I thought, it would be close, but Chicago had the inside track. (Side note: In a display that was utterly shameless, the elder Sammarach during Madrids presentation asked the committee to consider the fact that he was near the end of his time. We needed a guy like that on our side!)
Boy was I wrong. Seems the biggest obstacle for Chicago was a little thing called the U.S.O.C. (United States Olympic Committee) While I was worried about the big egos at the I.O.C., and for good reason, I failed to recognize that the organization running the show in this country is an out of touch mess. The thing that I keep reading about is personal relationships and how we dont obviously have a lot of them with I.O.C. members. This appears be true since there is a lot of in-fighting now apparent between the U.S.O.C. and its member organizations about how the bid was presented and handled. One thing being, and even I cant understand this, that the two people at the head of the U.S.O.C. werent even present for the 1st presentation of the formal bid over the summer. How can this happen? Didnt anyone tell them how this would look? Did they care? Or was something else going on? The root of most conflict is about money and it seems that our organization is as greedy as any other. Around the same time as the presentation, it seems that the idea of an Olympic TV Network was being hatched up by the new hierarchy at the U.S.O.C. You know what that meant: more dollars for the U.S. and less for everyone else. How do you think that went over? The idea was scrapped, but the message was sent and received. Now how would you expect the I.O.C. to react, when their biggest partner was starting to look out for only their own self interests? Show them whos the boss, thats how!
So as we gathered in the bar on Friday morning, none of us realized that we didnt have a chance. The deal was sealed long before the Leader of the Free World hopped on Air Force One and went to Copenhagen to help with the final pitch. Still as the TV blared and the bar continued to fill, I was convinced that Chicago was the right city for the Games and now was the right time and, once it became official, most of the dissenters here would hop on-board.
I can still see the stunned faces in front of me as the first round results were being read. People were still listening, not realizing that the first words out of Jacques Rogges mouth were, youre done! What? Did this really just happen? All of that work, down the drain? So much for the decorations, is it too late to cancel the band?
Like I said, I was stunned. But I did it to myself. I should have known better. You cant convince me that Chicago didnt have the best city and bid. Unfortunately, that wasnt all that mattered. What mattered was an organization that relies on secret ballots and no accountability can decide to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. If you dont want to play by their rules, theyll kick you out of the game. The U.S.O.C. needs to get its act together. The abominable bid they put together for New York four years ago for 2012 is one thing, to follow it up with this is not acceptable. The shame of it is the I.O.C. can say they gave Rio de Janeiro the bid to open a part of the world up that they have never been to before and they can make a good point about that. But lets not kid ourselves this wasnt about Rios win, it was about the U.S.O.C.s humbling (I hope) loss. The shame was it had to happen at our great citys expense and means I probably wont see a Summer Games in this country during my lifetime. I still love the Olympics and the notions that, at their core, they stand for, that for those two weeks in time they can elevate us above the pettiness that exists in our lives and we can celebrate through athletic competition and brotherhood. I guess I really am nave. I should have realized that the entire Olympic experience is really just a mirror of who we truly are.