Jerry Colangelo finds himself in an interesting position right now, heading up USA Basketball as the men’s national team prepares for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Seven years ago he was part of the group that presented Chicago’s bid for these games to the IOC, touting his home city as the rightful destination for 2016.
The effort was a colossal failure. Chicago was vying alongside Tokyo, Madrid and the eventual winner in 2009, and was abruptly dismissed early on in the meetings. The city was the first semifinalist told to pack up and go home. Some of us back in Chicago cheered this at the time as loudly and publicly as any sports victory, understanding what was at stake.
Colangelo is still bitter, however, now floating unsupported allegations that the vote was “wired.” He mentioned it first in a national radio interview last week, then expanded on his thoughts. “I can only tell you about my experience, and you can only conclude that something was amiss,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “That’s all. I don’t have any proof of anything.”
That didn’t stop him from describing a fog of confusion surrounding which bid stood where, according to what he thought he knew. “I can only conclude that everybody lied to everybody else about their intentions in terms of their votes,” he said. “Even the consultants that were retained by Chicago had incredibly bad information about what to expect from delegates.”
The city of Chicago spending lots of money on something and not getting commensurate value for it is entirely understandable, if not expected. (See what has happened with red-light-camera contracts or the hiring of education consulting firms for a primer on city business.) The entire bid process itself was a waste of $70 million desperately needed elsewhere, a last-ditch attempt by an outgoing mayor to let his cronies wet their beaks in a big pool of short-term outside money. Richard M. Daley called in all his remaining political favors to line up a coalition of supporters that ran from the deepest-pocketed private business leaders to the President of the United States himself, and the effort flopped.
We should all be ecstatic that it did, and that’s what Colangelo needs to understand. He has to see the economic damage the Olympics have inflicted elsewhere and what is currently happening in Rio. He has to understand that his home is far better off without them.
Chicago has enough problems of its own making. The city’s unfunded public pensions are propped up by desperate high-interest borrowing. Its cash-strapped school system is held political hostage by statehouse gridlock and labor discord. Multiple neighborhoods are besieged by relentless violence from guns and gangs. Trust in police has been broken after the videotaped shooting of an unarmed man exposed a force seeming to act with utter impunity under the protection of a code of silence.
Colangelo should look at Rio and figure out what more of that he wants here. Chicago is already rife with the kind of political corruption and divide between the upper and lower classes befitting a third-world nation. The city is already struggling to make good on promises to ensure the safety of all its citizens. It’s already not properly maintaining its public infrastructure. The road traffic is among the worst in the country. And the city’s burdensome financial hole continues to grow deeper.
The addition of empty and useless buildings, left after overpriced sweetheart construction deals and the misdirection of precious resources to a two-week pageant of drugged-up sports, could have put a strain on Chicago impossible to quantify. And that’s even before considering the security risks inherent in hosting a world-scale event. As flags waved and anthems blared, few would’ve have heard the further cracking of the city’s foundation.
If the IOC indeed rigged the bid in favor of another city for the 2016 Summer Olympics, good for them.