my take on the 2016 Olympics

Wednesday 7 October, 2009

1st of all, hats off to Rio de Janiero, a choice that should have been a surprise to no one. It was a historic decision, naming the 1st Olympic site in South America.

However what did surprise me is Chicago being the 1st out of the running.  On the 1 hand, there is no way you can convince me that the Chicago bid was the worst of the lot & worse than Tokyo’s.  That Chicago received fewer votes than New York did in its bid for the 2012 bid is equally ridiculous, but at least partly indicative of the greater problem.

On the other hand, there are a number of reasons Chicago should have lasted only 1 more round.

  • In  the past American Olympic cities were the choice when the IOC needed/wanted the absolute maximum financial return.  That’s no longer the case.  The IOC believes they can make as much money regardless of where they go, & they might be right.  Regardless, we’ve lost our financial advantage.
  • I pass a good part of the responsibility for the IOC’s decision on to the US Olympic Committee.  There are a number of lingering issues that supposedly were not relevant, but with a secret vote, they most certainly played a role.  2 are particularly important.
  1. 1.  the dispute over distribution of advertising revenues is still unresolved,
  2. 2.  the decision to launch the Olympic TV network, despite IOC objections & rescinded shortly after it was introduced for that reason, did not endear the US choice to IOC voters. New York’s rejection 4 years ago can no longer be blamed on their stadium plan falling through.  The IOC membership has issues with how the USOC works together with the IOC & this needs to be resolved before another US candidate city has a chance.
  • Finally, part of Chicago’s failure is due to at least a small bit of parochialism & insularity.  We assumed it was a rational & reasonable process.  It’s not.  It’s intensely political & we don’t play very well in those circles.  Americans admitted to not knowing how the Olympic system works.  Rio supporters hypothesized that Madrid was the bigger rival because they recognized the political power of Juan Antonio Samarach.  They were correct when Madrid came in 1st after the 1st round.  I fault the US members of the IOC too.  There is much talk of all the back-room bargaining which goes on in these “negotiations.”  Where were the US representatives when this horsetrading was going on?  They certainly didn’t do a very good job.  The Pakistani IOC rep asked about visa issues entering the US, & the response was sloughed off to Pres. Obama, who answered with a vaguely general response which said nothing.  We ignored issues relevant to this constituency which should have been duly addressed.  We missed the boat since this was an issue.

So what can be done?  The IOC/USOC rift needs to be addressed.  The current system begs for more transparency.  Too much money is at stake for there not to be some accountability for each IOC representative’s decision to be divulged.  We could encourage American advertisers to boycott the Olympics, but they won’t do that because they’re global players & can’t risk alienating the rest of the world.

I’m disappointed but not surprised Chicago didn’t win the bid because the Olympics would have been great for the city.  I can’t believe the number of people who couldn’t see the benefits Seoul & Barcelona have enjoyed since they hosted Olympics. If I had to have made a prediction, it would have been for Rio because of the significance of the decision, but I was still rooting for Chicago.

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