Suddenly it’s 2016, the year of the Summer Olympics, which Chicago will not be hosting.
The 2016 Games will take place in Rio de Janeiro, the first time the Olympics have been held in a Portuguese-speaking nation or on the continent of South America.
You’ll recall that Chicago bid hard for the 2016 Games when the global presentations were made to the International Olympic Committee in 2007. A year later, the IOC short-listed the candidate cities to Chicago, Rio, Madrid and Tokyo.
Chicago was ousted first. Next to go was Tokyo, and in the final round, Rio beat Madrid by a resounding 66-32 vote. It’s possible Chicago didn’t do enough to rig the vote. (This is the Olympics, remember.) It’s also possible, even likely, the deal was long done for a South American city.
At any rate, these days one can only recoil at the thought of the Olympics actually having been awarded to our troubled city. The thought of intense global focus on Chicago over a three-plus-week period in hot mid-summer brings shudders. If he knew the Games were coming, what would Spike Lee have called his movie? ‘‘Gold Medal Chiraq’’?
The Olympics may be a traveling road show as cynical as any snake-oil marketing vehicle anywhere, what with its reinvention of the wheel in a new place every four years and its command of billions of dollars in fees and ads and building mandates. But even with all that, there can be prestige when the Games are pulled off well and economically.
Of course, that almost never happens.
There are former Olympic stadiums and facilities around the globe that are still being paid off by citizens or sit virtually unused. It took until 2006 for Montreal to pay off the $1.6 billion debt on its 1976 Olympic Stadium. And Athens, the site of the first modern Games in 1896, lost a bundle back then and lost even more with its 2004 Olympics, going so far into the red that some experts believe the still only partially-paid-off debt helped ignite Greece’s 2009 economic crisis.
At the start, then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was dismissive of ever wanting the Games in Chicago. ‘‘The Olympics is a construction industry,’’ he snorted in 2004. “They want $2 million from me just to make a proposal.’’
But Daley changed his tune a year later, possibly to divert attention from the Hired Truck and city hiring scandals, and went gung-ho after the Games. By 2008 he was praising the economic potential and sarcastically deriding critics. ‘‘If you have something better, I’d love to see it,’’ he said.
No matter, Chicago did not get the Games. Rio did, and it’s stuck with them, for better or for worse. And if history tells us anything, it’s probably for the worse, especially for the little people, the 3 million extremely poor who live in Rio’s crime-ridden favellas ringing a metro area of about 13 million.
Taxpayers in general are likely to be hit hard. All the pie-in-the-sky predictions of tourism and jobs and future money pouring in because of the Games is hard to quantify, nearly impossible to disprove until it’s too late. As University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson said in 2009 of Chicago’s bid, ‘‘These economic impact numbers are just wildly enthusiastic.’’
But you know who would have profited in Chicago? The people on the inside, with clout. If we weren’t so hardened by ‘‘the Chicago Way,’’ maybe our city could have reveled in the Games.
But citizens know how it works here: Politicians are elected, deals are done, investigations follow, then indictments, wrapped up by the jail terms.
It’s always too late by then, of course. The nasty has been done.
Daley is long out of office, and this is Rahm Emanuel’s city now. And, man, what a mess. A bankrupt this and that. A broken public school system. A raging teachers union.
And, oh, the crime. More precisely, the crime and gunfire on the West and South sides, the places where minorities have been shunted through policy and poverty — not too unlike Rio’s favellas, for that matter.
And then the police killings. Can you imagine the headlines over Laquan McDonald, et al, if such tragedies occurred during the Games?
Poor people are displaced before Olympics. Bad areas are ‘‘sanitized.’’ Construction hampers daily life. Social problems are tamped down.
But they bubble up, just the same. Any of you planning on visiting Beijing or Sochi because of their Olympics? Didn’t think so.
Can you imagine the Chicago we know today inviting the world into our living room soon? I can’t.
Nor will we.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.