Chicago Wins By Losing

Why losing the Olympics is a blessing in disguise for the Windy City


Abraham Lincoln was once asked how he liked being president. Bedeviled by secession and war, he recalled a story about a man who, when tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail, commented that "if it was not for the honor of the thing, he would much rather walk." Chicago didn't get the honor of hosting the 2016 Olympic Games, but it should be grateful.

Athletes who make the games face the challenge of outdoing talented peers from all over the world. Cities that host the games face the challenge of putting on a massive and highly visible two-week extravaganza without spending themselves into the poor house.

That's why plenty of locals had serious reservations about the whole thing. While the Chicago 2016 committee brandished a poll showing that 72 percent of locals supported the bid, a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll put the number at only 47 percent.

Here, as elsewhere, public opinion does not always matter. When the mayor and assorted corporations and interest groups line up behind something, even a grandiose vanity project, it's a good bet they will prevail over petty malcontents. Mayor Richard M. Daley is accustomed to getting his own way, even if it means calling out bulldozers in the middle of the night to wreck a city airport the federal government refused to let him close.

In this case, the big boys did prevail, rolling over local objections to be among the four finalists in Copenhagen. They just couldn't prevail over powerful interests in other countries. For Daley—who has been in office for two decades but whose popularity has eroded due to scandals and flights of arrogance—the shocking first-round eviction was a rare humbling moment, which might be good for him.

The outcome did not cast a flattering light on President Obama's decision to jet to Denmark to personally lobby the International Olympic Committee, which know-it-alls back home took as proof that everything was wired for his home city. Conservatives crowed that the defeat showed global disdain for a president who was supposed to win over the world. But it could just as well reflect residual distrust sown by his predecessor.

It did, however, confirm that Obama should have stayed home and focused on issues that have something to do with his job, instead of inviting a small group of foreigners to hand him his hindquarters on a platter.

But for Chicago, the rejection is a blessing in disguise. Winning the bid makes for a nice celebration, like the one on Copacabana beach Friday. But the pleasure of that pales next to the hangover that follows the actual event.

Getting the games means a city sacrifices considerable control over its financial future. If your vacation turns out to be more expensive than you planned, you can always cut it short and go home. But if the Olympics run over budget, you don't have the option of bailing out. You spend what you have to spend, whether you have the funds or not.

Olympics do run over budget, as a rule. Montreal, which hosted the 1976 summer games, just paid off the last bills in 2006. Athens, the 2004 site, spent three times as much as it had planned.

The 2012 summer games are still three years away and yet London's obligation has already quadrupled, to $15 billion. The former head of the agency set up to handle construction for the London Olympics says that before they are done, the cost may reach $40 billion. That's as much as was spent in Beijing, whose Communist form of government allowed it to dispense with fiscal sanity.

The residents of Chicago and the surrounding area no longer face the prospect of being hostages to fortune. They don't have to order city plans around an event that would be over in a flash. They don't have to endure the congestion and inconveniences that the games bring. Most important, they don't have to fear that they and their children will have to bear a lot of unforeseen costs.

It's no fun to get jilted in front of the world. But the only thing worse than losing an Olympics bid is winning one.


NEXT: Against the Undead Hand

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Chrome users no longer silenced!

    Squirrel, thanks for bringing back the next story, main, previous story navigation!

    It’s no fun to get jilted in front of the world. But the only thing worse than losing an Olympics bid is winning one

    True dat!

  2. This is the only thing I’ve said about the whole Olympics thing and the only thing I’m going to say…

    What’s that? Do you hear that Prez? Yeah, that’s the sound of you being told to go fuck yourself!

    Ha, bitch!

  3. Woot! Posted 43 min. before 7:00!

  4. http://www.realclearpolitics.c…..e_per.html

    …And so it continues today. What should have been a story about Chicago – or better yet, Rio (good for you, Rio!) – is now a story about…Obama. Of course. Because just about everything in the public sphere must, must become a story about Obama. Because Obama injects himself and his campaign appartus/mindset/worldview into everything. And so, in this case, what would otherwise have been a “mere” rejection of Chicago and Mayor Daley has now become a rejection of the entire country. Why? Because of his decision to perpetuate the permanent campaign while holding the power of the executive….

  5. Would you like to hear something ridiculous? It takes 14 votes out of 17 on the County Board to over-ride the President’s veto – even on financial matters. We can’t even get a minor sales-tax increase rolled back, because only thirteen Commissioners at a time have voted for repeal… what kind of horrific fuck-ups would the Olympics have caused?

  6. Yes, I agree, Americans are arrogant, especially the one Obama looks at in the mirror. He is the ultimate “I me me I” person. His pitch “nothing would please ME (the emperor) more than to walk my door with MY wife & My 2….. & greet the world”
    The more important question is; What is the “Global Marshall Plan” and why is congress implimenting it behind our backs. See HR1078 110th. All of Obama’s speeches & congress’s 10,000 page major reform legislation are all lock, step & barrel with the GLOBAL MARSALL PLAN

    1. Yes, I agree, Americans are arrogant,

      You realize of course that you’re agreeing with something that no one has said yet. The article and comments upthread mention but two Americans, both of whom are indeed arrogant. But that hardly qualifies applying the same statement to the rest of the country, particularly those who don’t hold political power.

      1. Most Americans are arrogant w.r.t. the rest of the world. Denying that is itself arrogant.

        Look at all the people who were convinced that Chicago had already locked up the vote because Obama wouldn’t risk embarrassment by going. Never did they consider that the leaders of Japan, Spain, and Brazil were also going, so by their logic they must not care about being embarrassed.

        Most Americans tend to view the rest of the world as eight-year-old girls view their online Webkins; people to be fed or killed on American whim, until we get tired of paying attention to them and turn off the computer and they go away. When America closes its eyes, the rest of the world does continue to exist; my sense is that most Americans do not understand that.

        1. Mitigating a statement from all to most doesn’t change the fact that a statement is being made about a broad class of people with a wide range of beliefs.

          Do you have something to back up that assertion beyond your sense, Obi Wan? Or is it arrogant to ask that?

        2. Tulpa:

          “Look at all the people” in the Cook County Political Machine who were in on the fix in Chicago, you mean. The leaders of Japan, Spain and Brazil didn’t tag along as Oprah’s groupies, did they, or refer to “I” or “me” more often than their countries or countrymen in their respective presentations? Mmm?

          I’d say you haven’t a clue about how “most Americans view the world” — probably with mild to escalating annoyance if your ill-informed projection is any measure of how the rest of the world views us.

          While there’s no excuse for you, I’m not surprised that the IOC showed contempt and disdain for a man who spends at least as much time apologizing for the country he serves as he does frittering away its sovereignty. Familiarity and weakness breed contempt, Jimmy Carter can tell us all about that.

  7. The Olympics are a rip off. Nearly every city, sand LA who already had all of the facilities built, lost money on the deal. For the host city, they are nothing but a propeganda tool for the host government. The people of Chicago have better things to do with their money.

    It is funny that liberals call their opponents fascist yet support the US hosting the Olympics. Let’s see what is fascist about hosting an international event whose main value is official propeganda and to show the superiority of native athletes.

  8. Conservatives crowed that the defeat showed global disdain for a president who was supposed to win over the world. But it could just as well reflect residual distrust sown by his predecessor.

    Or it just showed Chicago was a crappy host city, which it was..

    Fuck Obama for making this the most retarded political talking point in a while.

    1. Please, Obama, keep trying to blame everything on Bush. The public has become seriously tired of that, and I will drink wine for every percentage point your approval ratings drop.

      1. I just hope you’ve got a liver donor lined up.

    2. They gave the Olympics to Red China, the Soviet Union, and NAZI FREAKIN’ GERMANY, but they snubbed The One’s adopted hometown because they’re pissed at a former president?
      By the way, the 2014 Winter Games are going to Russia, another model of human rights.

  9. The RGE Monitor has a good review of the costs associated with the Olympics ( including this comment form Jeffrey Owen of Indiana State University: “Although economic impact studies tend to forecast large economic benefits, ex-post studies have consistently found no evidence of positive economic impacts from mega-sporting events even remotely approaching the estimates in economic impact studies.”

  10. I’m just waiting for Janeane Garofalo to call everyone in Brazil a racist.


  11. It’s funny, the modern Olympics were intended to transcend national boundaries and political contests.

    The Games were supposed to be awarded to cities not nations and atheletes were supposed to compete as individuals not as representatives of the countries that claimed them as citizens.

    Naturally, this spirit of elitist amateurism was doomed in the face of political reality. There may have been those that used the Olympics for propaganda and national boosterism before Hitler but he certainly raised it to the high art of the ’36 Games.

    The only hope for the Games is for the IOC to lose its quasi-governmental status and to return to awarding the Games to cities with the requirement that they be staged free of national interference and/or subsidies.

    Otherwise, I’m hoping the guy who predicted that the 2016 Olympics would be the last is right.

  12. Look at all the people who were convinced that Chicago had already locked up the vote because Obama wouldn’t risk embarrassment by going.

    That just means that Obama believed Chicago had it locked up.

    What I find disturbing is that apparently Obama doesn’t have any conception of how business is done out in the real world, that he believed that the IOC would be swayed by treacly autobiography and swooping rhetoric rather than the combination of “what can you do for me” and “what can you do to me”.

    If this is the mindset he brings to dealing with Iran, Russia, North Korea, etc. ad infinitum, then our foreign policy is well and truly fucked.

    1. Come on, R.C., you don’t think, “Please don’t use your nuclear bombs on Israel and/or Japan because it would not be in the cause of diversity,” is a convincing argument>?

    2. Look at all the people who were convinced that Chicago had already locked up the vote

      That’s because EVERY vote in Chicago is locked up. There may be defeats or coups, but there are never any surprises…at least until now.

      Gotta hand it to the IOC — they schooled the Cook County Machine in how to fix an election. Well-played!

  13. Why would people think Chicago had it locked up? Rio was everybody’s first or second choice, so as long as it didn’t lose on the first ballot, it was going to win.

  14. Wasn’t Hitler able to get the Olympics in 1936?

    1. (For the record, the above was humor intended to mock the hyperbole in the generalized debate over Obama vs. Everything and was not, in any way, intended to be read as a question asked in earnest)

      1. Besides, the Olympics were already awarded to Berlin in 1931 before Hitler took power.

        The 1940 Olympics would have been in Tokyo but they were cancelled for some reason involving lots of guns and tanks.

  15. Me-shell Ocommie: Wah-wah-wah-o-wah, Barak, you said you would get the Olympics for me and I could be on TV, again!!

    Bakabaka WhoInsane Ocommie: Shud-up Biiatch, I gonna have to whup on your ass! Anyway, it was the fault of that fatass Oprah, I told you not to let her eat more boxes of dunkin-donuts on the plane!

    Me-shell: But, you said….

    Bakabaka: Shudup now, I have a plan: I am negotiating with that president Lula, we’re gonna replace that statue of that honkey Jesus dude on that hill in Rio, with one of the Holy Goracle.

    Me-shell: Goracle? Whaa?

    Bakabaka: You know, the Goracle damnit!, he made that lame ass movie and got one of them Nobel Prizes, Al Gore!

    Me-shell: Oh, yeah, that damn fat cracka, I hate him, he’s always starin ay my ass… you think I look fat in this dress?

    Bakabaka: Now I dun tol you ho!, I’s gonna…..

    Me-shell: Ok, ok, what is the plan?

    Bakabaka: Well, after I put up that statue of that Goracle, when all the world sees it, they gonna fall down and worship that Goracle, and then, the world will be saved and we will have another of them Olympics!

    Me-shell: I don’t get it, wha…

    Bakabaka: Woman, you gonna makes me whups ya! Listen up Biiatch!, You see, when the people prays to that Goracle statue, the world will be saved from the global warmin, and it will be because of me! Then Chicago will have another chance at the Olympics! But, this time, I’m not taking that fatass Oprah, I’m taking Beyonce, now that girl is fine you know, she gots da booty!

  16. But it could just as well reflect residual distrust sown by his predecessor.

    I thought we were smarter than the “blame everything on Bush” crowd. At least, I *know* *I* am…

  17. Darn those “petty malcontents” and their meddling with the affairs of their betters!

    When the government starts seeing the citizens as “petty malcontents” rather than the holders and dispensers of political power, you get results like Chicago (and DC, and Detroit, and LA and San Francisco and Cleveland and Atlanta and so on). Turn them out and put some petty malcontents back in charge of the cities and the cities will improve.

    And gosh golly gee, China spent one month of trade surplus with the US on their Olympic games!

  18. It cost Chicago 1 billion dollars just to renovate Soldier Field (near universally panned as the ugliest building in the city). The Cowboys built their ultramodern stadium with a retracting roof for 1.3 billion. This city can’t build a port-o-potty for less than 3 times the going rate elsewhere. The Olympics would have cost FAR more than anyone acknowledged, most of it graft and political favors. This decision probably saved Chicago from financial devastation.

  19. Yes, Steve, but the PRESTIGE!

    Billions of dollars of debt and white elephant sports arenas are so worth it!

    Just ask Atlanta…

  20. Read the tale in quotes and comments about the affair on my blog.

  21. Steve, cities have only so much latitude in how much graft and pork they can soak up from the citizenry. If it’s not the Olympics, Chicago will pay for something else that lards the pocket of machine Democrats.

  22. Well, yes, for the city that hosts the Games, the Olympics are an economic white elephant. However, let’s not confuse the city with the politically connected in said city. Hosting the Olympics means billions of dollars get doled out to build stadiums, to form host committees, to scores of local vendors. It’s a veritable goldmine for the politically connected, no matter what the effect on the city.

  23. This all sounds like a Nathan Thurm bit on SNL insisting he knows about the corruption, waste and fraud associated with the Olympics. 0bama should just admit he screwed up and once and for it is not all about him.

  24. This all sounds like a Nathan Thurm bit on SNL insisting he knows about the corruption, waste and fraud associated with the Olympics. 0bama should just admit he screwed up and once and for it is not all about him.

  25. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets

  26. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.