The Olympic (shell) games

There are billions of reasons why every debt-saddled American should hope that the US does not get the gold in 2016.
By ANNE ELIZABETH MOORE  |  September 25, 2009

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It’s been 13 years since the pageantry and spectacle of the Summer Olympic Games — and the mythical economic boon that goes with it — has graced US soil. And it will be at least another seven years before such a star-spangled Olympic dream comes true. But we’ll find out next week if, in a secret-ballot vote in Europe, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will award the 2016 Games to Chicago, the American city competing for the bid.

Yes, on October 2, Denmark will welcome dignitaries from all over the planet as the IOC convenes its 121st session. After a welcoming ceremony at the Copenhagen Opera House, the IOC’s 130 members will gather to decide which of four cities — the Obama-and-Oprah-backed Chicago is up against Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, and Tokyo — will host the XXXI Olympiad.

Global interest in the announcement always runs high, given the perception that securing a host-city platform will punch an economic meal ticket worth billions of dollars. That is surely why both the president of Brazil and the king of Spain have vowed to be in Copenhagen for the announcement — working the room before the vote — and why the prime minister of Japan and even President Barack Obama could also make a showing (First Lady Michelle has already committed to attend).

It’s also of interest to Bostonians, for two reasons: 1) as Americans, we’re eager to see if our country will get the Games, and, more selfishly, 2) if Chicago falters, it means the 2020 Games will almost certainly be served up to whichever enterprising US city emerges from the pack. That’s because the IOC would have to be dumber than a steroid-ingesting shot-putter to reject an American city — with all the attendant broadcasting dollars and sponsorship bucks — three times in a row (New York 2012, Chicago 2016, and TBD 2020). The lucky city could well be Boston, which, sources say, has been quietly readying an exploratory committee should the Windy City be blown away.

Two independent and unofficial Web sites that monitor the bid process have handicapped the 2016 contest. One has Chicago in front, while the other has it trailing both Tokyo and Rio.

A given in the sharp-elbowed scramble to secure the Olympics is the presumption that the Games are an economic golden goose. And that may be true — for multi-national corporations. According to many experts, however, on a local level, hosting the Olympics is actually a recipe for economic ruination. Be careful what you wish for, would-be host cities: you could find that the glorious Olympic torch burns at both ends.

The Olympic legacy of debt
The exact price of hosting the Summer Olympic Games — or any sports “mega-event,” including the FIFA World Cup — is under dispute. (The Winter Olympics, which bring in a quarter of the money and tourists, are actually classified by sociologists as just a “major” sports event.) Leading sports economist Allen Sanderson of the University of Chicago, however, is clear on one point: “Generally, these things lose money.”

The London 2012 Games, for example, were predicted to cost around $3.3 billion USD when the bid was submitted six years ago. That price tag has since quadrupled, and watchers agree that the cost will quintuple before Opening Day.

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  •   THE OLYMPIC (SHELL) GAMES  |  September 25, 2009
    It’s been 13 years since the pageantry and spectacle of the Summer Olympic Games — and the mythical economic boon that goes with it — has graced US soil. But we’ll find out next week if, in a secret-ballot vote in Europe, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will award the 2016 Games to Chicago, the American city competing for the bid.
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    Minnesota is known innocently enough as the Gopher State, but for one terrifying, riot-gear-and-grenade-filled week this past summer, it was a police state.  

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