Representatives of the International Olympic Committee arrived last week to get a first-hand look at Chicago, one of four cities still in the running for the 2016 summer games. If locals are lucky, the IOC team will admire our architecture, stroll our lakefront, enjoy our restaurants, praise our plans -- and then give the games to someone else.
I can see how it might be fun to hold the Olympics here, just as it would have been a treat to attend the wedding of Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen. But getting picked to put on the games is like being asked to let B&B take their vows in your backyard and throw a huge bash for them afterward. It's a nice deal for the betrothed, but not so great for the host, who would probably be cleaning up the debris and paying the bills for some time to come.
If you like vanity projects, you'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger or better one than the Olympics -- a two-week extravaganza featuring thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators, plus a worldwide TV audience.
But what does Chicago really stand to gain from it? It's not like we were unknown, even before a Chicagoan went to the White House. And it's hard to believe all the publicity has a long-term payoff. How many people do you know who were inspired to visit Calgary after the 1988 winter games?
Boosters promise gains in the form of infrastructure improvements and a boom in tourism. But Victor Matheson, an economist at College of the Holy Cross, has found that the glow of staging major sporting events like the Super Bowl, the World Cup or the Olympics "tends not to translate into any measurable benefits to the host city."
Many residents would get to see Olympic events in person, something they would never do otherwise, which is worth something. But for most of the rest of the people in the region, it will be a major hassle, a minor hassle or an irrelevance.
It will most likely also be an expense. The people running the Chicago 2016 committee say taxpayers won't be out one thin dime for the privilege, and Mayor Daley echoes that promise. But to back up the bid, the city had to promise to cover any operating deficit up to $500 million.
Chances are good it will have to make good on that promise. The festivities have a maddening habit of costing more than the prime movers say they will.
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