Saturday, October 03, 2009

Olympic Fail? Or Just Olympic Loss?

One of the things that surprises me about reaction to Chicago's loss of the 2016 games (to Rio de Janeiro) is that so many people seemed to think it was ours to lose. For all the attention these games got from our Commander in Chief, his wife, and even Oprah Winfrey, you'd think this was a major international policy failure on our part.

Yet, perhaps because I'm not from Chicago and hold no special affection for the city, our loss to Rio is less bothersome to me than the possibility that very soon I may be facing jail time if ever I can't afford to buy health care insurance. In other words, is it just possible that our priorities are a little skewed here?

Worse yet, the recriminations (Bush's fault! No, wait! Obama's fault! No, wait...) change nothing. For heaven's sake, people. Get over it, find the lessons learned, and be better prepared for next time. Also, who ever said these games were in any way inevitable? Jesse Jackson? Since when did he become a bellwether of American domestic policy?

Things we know about hosting the Olympic Games:

1. They always cost more than we plan. The costs go way beyond just dollar figures, too. Reputations are made or broken because of the games, and I'm not just talking about the athletes. The bottom line — the one no one ever wants to discuss except for a few malcontents in the editorial sections of obscure newspapers — is that the taxpayers always get stiffed. Consider this: how many millions of dollars did Chicago spend on their losing bid? Enough, probably, to build a few low-cost housing units would be my guess.

2. The Olympic Games are political. Always have been, always will be. Heads of state of the various participating nations take it as a point of national pride to send their teams to the Games. Thus nationalism, even patriotism, is closely tied to the competition. The athletes may take center stage, but how many of the last several games we watched were distracted by numerous political stunts. Remember the allegations of under-aged gymnasts in China? How about the figure skating judging fiascos of several years ago that have pretty much ruined the sport now? And, of course, how could we ever forget the terrorism of the Munich Games?

3. Not that the athletes are saints themselves. How many doping scandals have we witnessed just in the last three summer events? We want, desperately, to hold our Olympic athletes up as icons, heroes, or even just all-around good people. To have them mock that adoration by doping themselves up for the sake of a disc of medal to hang around their necks is seen as a betrayal by the devotees of the Games. Likewise, we always hope we've learned our lessons about sending primas donna to the Games. The so-called "Dream Team" (ver. 2.0) of several Games ago was a classic case of why narcissists should never be allowed to compete. I got so fed up with the prancing and preening of certain high-powered multi-million dollar talent from the basketball venue that year that I will probably never watch an Olympic basketball game again. Ever.

All of these things make me wonder why on earth we even bother competing to host the Games anymore. Cronyism is rampant in the IOC, and you have to play their game (while appearing not to play their game) in order to have any chance at all of winning. Given the sheer number of Games that this country has hosted over the years, I am not surprised to see other nations be given the chance.

Rio is significant for the fact that these are the first Games to be hosted in a South American nation. Good for them. I wish them well as they struggle now to get their venues built, deal with security concerns, displace all kinds of people in order to have Olympic Villages ready for the athletes, and drive their country into near-bankruptcy in order to pay for it all.

Hey, Rio! Let us know if you need any money, won't you? Chicago apparently has some tax revenue to burn.

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