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The [Monday] Papers

By Steve Rhodes

How are the Olympics like Milton Bradley?

Past performance is the best indicator of future behavior.

You don't even have to look across the ocean anymore to see what happens to almost every city in history that hosts the Games.

Now it's Vancouver that is having second, third and fourth thoughts.

"In 2007, 59 per cent of Canadians polled said the Games would have a positive impact on economic opportunities, but the latest numbers suggest only 52 per cent share that view," the CBC reports.

And as we've seen here in Chicago, the more folks know the less confident they are in the promises made by Olympic organizers.

"Living with the day-to-day realities of hosting an Olympics seems to have given British Columbia a slightly darker view than the rest of the country. Respondents were asked about nine different areas where the Games could have an impact, from economics to the promotion of world peace through sport. The British Columbians questioned consistently believed the Games would have a less positive impact than residents in other provinces."

And why would that be?

"Already, several aspects of the Games are well over budget, including security, initially projected to cost $175 million but now forecast to require up to $1 billion of taxpayer money. As well, a financial fiasco struck the athletes village when its original funder backed out and the city of Vancouver had to step in to guarantee its completion and cover hundreds of millions of cost overruns."

Now, if this was just Vancouver, that would be one thing. If it was just London - whose massive overruns and taxpayer rescues are the stuff of Olympic legend - that would be another.

But what if it's almost every city that hosts the Olympics? Doesn't that suggest that something about the Olympics - the blank checks, the open-ended commitments, the overly optimistic projections used to persuade the citizenry, the grandiosity - inherently makes it a financial loser?

The editorial boards like to say the Olympics will deliver for Chicago if they are "done right" - meaning if they are managed in such a way that all the promises being made now will be fulfilled.

Well, I support bringing Milton Bradley back next year if it is "done right" - meaning in such a way that he turns into a model citizen who feeds the homeless and helps old ladies across the street when he's not leading the Cubs to a World Series with his stellar play.

Desired outcomes are rarely realized from faulty premises.

But these Olympics will be different!

For example, Chicago 2016 officials promise no white elephants. Instead, these games will use a slew of temporary venues.

This is hardly a solution. Just look at London, which is aboil over just that.

"Taxpayers simply will not understand spending millions on temporary venues that will be dismantled after the games, never to be used again," the mayor's office there says.

But what about all those insurance policies that are supposed to protect us?

Riiiiight.

Back in Vancouver, the city's rescue of a $1 billion Olympic Village very much like what Chicago is planning - with plans to sell the units after the Games as condos - is just one piece of their disaster.

"Vancouver's Olympic finances melt down," the National Post reported back in July. And it's only gotten worse.

Who else?

"Athens initially projected that its Games would cost $1.6 billion, but they ended up costing closer to $16 billion (including facility and infrastructure costs)," according to economists Brad Humphreys and Andrew Zimbalist's The Financing and Economic Impact of the Olympic Games. "Beijing projected costs of $1.6 billion, but current estimates are that they will cost between $30 billion and $40 billion . . .

"[W]hile the Sydney OCOG in 2000 reported that it broke even, the Australian state auditor estimated that the Games true long-term cost was $2.2 billion. In part, this was because it is now costing $30 million a year to operate the 90,000-seat Olympic Stadium.

"Similarly, the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona generated a reported surplus of $3 million for the local organizing committee, but it created a debt of $4 billion for the central Spanish government and of $2.1 billion for the city and provincial governments."

And what of previous U.S. Olympics?

Officials at a "2016 Olympics Specialized Reporting Institute" held at DePaul earlier this month repeatedly stated that "No summer Games in the United States has ever lost money," according to Esther Cepeda.

All four of them?

St. Louis hosted the Summer Olympics in 1904; Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympics in 1932 and again in 1984; and Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics in 1996.

(Curiously, Winter Olympics held in the U.S., like the scandal-ridden Salt Lake City Games, were left out of the equation. Salt Lake City vs. Chicago, people.)

It's generally agreed that L.A. pulled off the miracle of all Olympic miracles with its financial performance in 1984. The exception proves the rule.

Atlanta is the rule.

"Atlanta spent about $6 million in its two-year bid to win the Olympics, [former Mayor Andrew] Young said," the Tribune reports today. "Afterward, the fundraising organization was broke, he said.

"'When they said, You've won the Olympics, they gave us a letter and a bill for $1.5 million for the victory party. Frankly, we didn't have a penny,' Young said."

Atlanta turned to private donors who like to pay for private things, not the infrastructure improvements everyone keeps talking about.

Even infamous Atlanta Olympic impresario Billy Payne says the greatest benefit to his city wasn't economic, but, you know, lingering pride.

You would have thought the Trib and other media outlets would have visited - or at least researched - the experience of other cities way before now.

But no. Last night, Ben Bradley started a three-night series on "how the Olympics might effect you" on ABC7.

The first report noted that Olympic promises of gold usually end up "more like something between bronze and lead."

Thanks for getting around to that just 12 days out from the IOC's decision.

Earlier this month, John Dodge, the executive producer of digital media for CBS2 posted this on his Facebook page:

"I don't know about you guys, but I really hope Chicago gets the Olympics in 2016. I am kind of an Olympics geek!"

He attached a link to this story: "City Council Approves Taxpayer Funds As Backing For 2016 Olympics."

After an anti-Olympics activist posted a reply, Dodge wrote: "It's a personal observation, not a professional one."

So I posted this on Dodge's page:

"John, as [an] executive producer of CBS2News, how many stories have you assigned cataloging City Hall's and Chicago 2016's deceptions; the existing body of research in to the financial impact of the Games; a review of what other Olympic cities have experienced; an examination of the rosy assumptions that will never come true; the indivisibility between City Hall and Chicago 2016; the lack of oversight then, now and in the future? And that's just for starters. You may be only expressing a personal opinion, but what have you done professionally?"

Dodge did not respond.

On Thursday, the Chicago Headline Club, the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, will give an Olympic Bid Bus Tour "for journalists covering the city's efforts to get the 2016 Games."

"The tour offers a unique opportunity to visit the proposed Olympic sites and hear timely briefings from experts and community leaders," Headline Club President Beth Konrad said in a press release.

Unique? Only if you don't own a map.

Timely? Only if you are a propaganda arm of Chicago 2016.

Helpful in any way? Not nearly as helpful as if the club had offered training for journalists at the beginning of this process about how to read the relevant economic reports and academic research, as well as what questions to ask of local officials and how to ask them.

That's the kind of training you would never expect journalists in a major metropolitan area to need, but we've all learned differently by now.

-

The Beachwood Tip Line: Tin.




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Posted on September 21, 2009


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
TV - Paul Lynde vs. Halloween.
POLITICS - The Political Odds.
SPORTS - The College Football Report: Huffing Paint & The HAL 9000. TrackNotes: Bacchanalia Binging.

BOOKS - Local Book Notes: Dirty Wars.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Beachwood Photo Booth: Francisco Frankenstein.


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