Saturday, July 2, 2016
Feeling that Olympic-sized regret yet?
Well, THIS was an oversight.
After the state of Rio de Janeiro declared a "state of public calamity," its governor warning of the risk of "a total collapse in public security, health, education, mobility and environmental management,” I couldn't resist re-tweeting a 2013 column on the mayor, Eduardo Paes, chiding me for lampooning the International Olympic Committee selection of his city for the 2016 Olympics. I thought I'd toss in a link to the original column but, to my surprise, in the first flush of doing this blog, I didn't post it here in July, 2013. Time to correct that. This is the piece that got Brazilians in a knot. Turned out, they should have spent less energy being indignant, more getting ready to host the world.
Dear International Olympic Committee:
Howdy! Long time no talk to. Four years. Where does the time go?
I know you've probably forgotten about Chicago, ever since you gave us the backhand in fall 2009, and in the first round no less.
But we remember. Yes, we do. What Chicagoan who stood in those crowds—dressed in our civic best, as it were, holding a hand-picked bouquet, gussied up to the tune of $50 million in city-buffing money, waiting, eager for the good news—can remember the deflating letdown, the shocking dismissal, the confetti trickling out of our slack fingers into the street, watching benumbed as Madrid, Rio and Tokyo skipped onward without us.
And in case you are tempted to ascribe this to bitterness, we'll happily note that the Olympic games are three years away, so everything could still work well. Hard to imagine, but it's possible. The protests rocking Brazil—hundreds of thousands of people, in 100 cities last month, the streets of Rio in flames this week—could ebb, and everything could somehow be fine in 2016. We add our sincere hopes and prayers that it will be so to those of the world.
Although one little question keeps waving its hand over its head, going "oh oh oh!" and begging to be asked. So I'm just going to call upon that question and be done with it. Ready?
Here's our question:
Because you could have had Chicago. Which isn't a city without problems. Lots of problems. Streets in certain neighborhoods raked with deadly gunfire every weekend. Pension giveaways one straw away from cracking the government's back. School teachers laid off by the thousands. And I'm sure, had we gotten the 2016 Olympics, as we should have, there would have been grumbling aplenty about hosting a big quadrennial party for the world's athletic elites in the midst of all our concerns.
But I bet we could have done it without firebombs. Without the military breaking out the tear gas and the rubber bullets. I bet our population wouldn't rise up against the Olympics, the way they're doing in Brazil, which is also upset about hosting the World Cup in 2014.
Chicago hosted the World Cup, along with eight other cities, in 1994, which was such a non-crisis to us that I bet a lot of people who were around then don't even remember it. I do—it was hot. That's it. A city like ours knows how to do this kind of thing. We planned a victory party for several million Blackhawks fans in, what, three days? Tear gas proved unnecessary.
No hard feelings, IOC. Maybe next time, assuming we feel like going through all the bother to try to win your silly Olympics. But I don't expect that. Most Chicagoans, rather than yearn toward our lost Olympics, are glad. We got off light, and now can get to sit back and watch Brazil try to manage the task, which might be more fun than hosting would have been. You can't say you didn't have your chance. And you blew it. You could have had gold, but settled for bronze.
—Originally published in the Sun-Times, July 24, 2013