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Why Chicago lost the Olympics

October 2, 2009

logo_Chicago2016By all accounts, the committee that organized Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympic Games, Chicago 2016, put together a strong bid to bring the games to the shores of Lake Michigan.

But it wasn’t enough. Chicago was eliminated in the first round of voting. Here are some reasons why:


It couldn’t have helped that the sitting governor of the state of Illinois Rod Blagojevich was arrested at his home on a variety of charges related to corruption. Most notably, he’s accused of trying to sell the US Senate seat of Barack Obama.

Remember Salt Lake City? I’m willing to bet the International Olympic Committee does.  Not so much that the games were held there in 2002, but rather that the city won the bid through bribing IOC officials.

True, after that debacle the IOC went into a number of reforms. But make no mistake – the Salt Lake Games casts a big shadow over the IOC and it’s not difficult to imagine any future American bid might find it hard to escape from that cloud. Given that history, when Blago was put into handcuffs, memories must have regurgitated.


The Olympics have never been held in South America. It’s about time.


In my various conversations with a number of Chicagoans, it was hard to find someone who was absolutely ecstatic about getting the games.  Public support was weak – hovered about 50% according to independent polls. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Daley’s about face – Mayor Richard Daley has done amazing things for this city – not without controversy. A few months before the bid announcement, Daley promised Chicago that the city would not be left financially responsible for the games should the cost overruns. And then… he changed his mind. The city signed an agreement with the IOC that it would guarantee the finances. Chicagoans were on the hook.
  • Cost – Over the years, Chicagoans have learned to not trust anything a Chicago politician says. And the track record for other civic opportunities hasn’t exactly helped Daley and friends. While Millennium Park is an incredible asset to the city, its original cost was supposed to be $150 million. It wound up costing $475 million. No one in Chicago believed that the cost of holding the Olympics in Chicago would be limited to its projected $2 billion.
  • Parking Meters – In July a private company began its lease of the 36,000 parking meters in Chicago. Mayor Daley (and the complacent City Council) sold the meters to LAZ Parking for over a billion dollars. As part of the deal, LAZ (yes, which you can pronounce “lazy”) Parking raised the rates dramatically. Parking meters will go from $3 per hour downtown to $6.50 per hour downtown in 2010. And by the way, for the first few weeks after the transition before they installed new payment boxes, you had to use quarters. That means the heavy pockets you needed served as a constant reminder about the increased cost. This business deal quickly became incredibly unpopular among Chicagoans and, at least for me, made it very clear that we would be the ones paying for the games.
  • Politics as usual – one of Daley’s friends and a forming member of Chicago 2016 Michael Scott had for-profit real estate interests within a block of one of the proposed Olympic sites.  Regardless of whether or not he used inside information, what matters is the appearance that he did.  It doesn’t sit well with Chicagoans and feeds our negative opinion of Chicago politics.


Remember the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Denver? Neither do I. That’s because it never happened. After Denver won the games, popular support drained and Colorado voters expressed an unwillingness to host the games through a referendum. In an unprecedented move, the games moved to a new city (Innsbruck, Austria) after they had been awarded to Denver. Memories are long and with public support low, this could have been a factor in the IOC’s decision.


None of the bidding cities are immune from violence. But at least as far as the American media is concerned, the very recent tragic beating death of high school student Darrion Albert is a top story. While Rio suffers from worse crime rates than Chicago, the especially heinous beating of Albert was a stark reminder of the dangers ever-present in Chicago.

Congratulations to Rio, the world is watching.


The writer is the editor of —  You can contact him at JamesERatcitizenpolitydotcom or follow him on Twitter:

Copyright 2009 – CitizenPolity & James Epstein-Reeves – Not to be used without the written permission of CitizenPolity or the author.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. HotBeans permalink
    October 2, 2009 2:02 pm

    This graph shows the real reason we lost the bid: LOL. I think this is supper funny.

  2. Marc permalink
    October 2, 2009 2:31 pm

    I forgot all about Denver. It also seems that the bid was all about why Chicago was such a perfect city for the Games, but it completely left out just how fun this place is. Although it would have been fun to have the Olympics, I honestly feel that the city is better off.

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