Steve Chapman

The 2004 summer games in Athens cost $1.7 billion, largely because of heightened security demands after 9/11. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police says the budget for security at next year's winter games in Vancouver is likewise insufficient. Sponsors had planned to spend just $175 million, even though protecting the last winter games in Salt Lake City cost $300 million.

The total price of the 2012 games has tripled since London won the bid. "London is shaping up in many ways to be a financial catastrophe," sports economist Stefan Szymanski of City University London recently told Tribune correspondent Laurie Goering, pointing out the dismal fact: "You only get the Olympics by paying more than they're worth."

Patrick Ryan, head of Chicago 2016, brags that the Olympics have strong support among Chicagoans. That's true. What doesn't have strong support is paying for them. Asked in a poll if they favored using tax dollars to help cover the cost, 75 percent of Chicago-area respondents said no.

What those people may not have considered is that even if they don't pay for the privilege through higher taxes, they will pay in other ways. Has anyone considered how pleasurable it will be -- and how prolonged the pleasure -- to drive from the South Side to the North Side during that fortnight? Or do anything that is not related to the games? Has anyone considered all the institutions that will suffer because donations and entertainment outlays will be diverted from them to the Olympics?

Olympic skeptics are admonished for such petty concerns by supporters who brandish the words of Chicago's visionary urban planner Daniel Burnham: "Make no little plans." But the Olympics may prove that a big plan is not the same as a good plan.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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