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Olympocalypse: What Went Wrong?

By Kevin Robinson in News on Oct 5, 2009 2:00PM

Losing the 2016 Summer Olympic bid was shocking enough to many Chicagoans; coming in last place was a blow to the ego of a city with a chip on its big shoulders. After two years of wrangling, six months of hype, arm-twisting in the city council and literally millions of dollars in private contributions to pull the bid off, Mayor Daley is coming back to Chicago empty handed, and many people (including those inside City Hall) are asking what went wrong.

We may never know the true motives of the International Olympic Committee, an elite and secretive group that travels among global circles of VIPs. But we can learn a lot from Mayor Daley's failure to deliver what he represented as the best economic opportunity for the city in the next several years. Three themes have emerged from analysis of the vote over the weekend. There is a reticence among IOC members to deal with the United States, resulting not just from a euro-centric sentiment that the U.S. tends to act unilaterally, but also because of the strained relationship the rest of the body have with the US Olympic Committee. There are also rumors abound that tactical voting took place among the asian nations to ensure that Tokyo's would stay in the running just long enough to avoid international embarrassment. But perhaps most telling of the paper tiger that Mayor Daley has become in Chicago is the overwhelming sense that Chicago's bid presentation was boring, scripted and dull.

An unnamed "well-regarded global sports strategist and consultant" told the Sun-Times that Chicago's presentation "was corporate America all the way." And in that statement is the heart of Chicago 2016's failure to engage people, from the neighborhoods of Chicago to the global elite in Denmark. As Matt Brown from Londonist told us last week, "though support will never be universal, a city needs to have a reasonable amount if it's going to make a successful bid." That idea, that Chicago lacked the popular support needed to pull the Olympics off, was echoed among IOC insiders as well. Lamine Diack of Senegal told the Sun-Times that Chicago's attempts to hold the games on the cheap, through private donations and insurance left him with a bad taste in his mouth. The city council's vote to financially back the games if things went wrong came too late, he said. "The other cities had the strong backing of the government," Diack said. And while it seems on the surface that the government, from the city through the feds were behind the bid, the Chicago-style back-room wrangling to secure financing most likely left IOC members nervous about Chicago, and therefore Daley's ability to pull it off.

As Mayor Daley returns to Chicago, the long-standing veneer of untouchablity that has surrounded Daley for decades seems to have lost some of its luster. Barack Obama will will take a few dings for not delivering, shake it off and move on. But Daley, who's constituency has long been the corporate powerbrokers in Chicago, is left with a much starker future. With out the single-minded push to land and then execute the 2016 Summer Games, the problems the city faces will begin to settle on his doorstep - from the budget, to the schools, to Chicago's crumbling infrastructure. That, compounded with an angry and frustrated electorate leave the mayor's tenure in question.

If a savvy and ambitious politician in Chicago can do the political calculus (and that's a big if given the caliber of local politician we've got in town these days), the mayor may find it much more difficult to rule without consent and consensus. Whether that ultimately turns out to be a good thing for Chicago and her citizens or not remains to be seen.