Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Friday (10/2) is the big day and I’m excited. The International Olympic Committee is meeting in Copenhagen to vote on the site of the 2016 Summer Olympics and my beloved native city of Chicago is in the running, along with Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid.

By me, it figures that Chicago will prevail. Rio is best known for crime and immense slums, Tokyo for $150 airport-to-hotel cab rides, and Madrid for being the seat of the Franco government, which far outlasted those of his buddies Hitler and Mussolini. Looks like a slam dunk right there.

Chicago has many positive things going for it as well. International sports honchos love the U.S.’s restaurants, five-star hotels, limos and rental cars, telephone systems, stadiums, luxury boxes and fans able and eager to buy tickets for whatever event is on tap, and Chi-Town has those in abundance. Anything you can get anywhere you can get there, and I mean anything. Who could ask for more?

The Olympics would look great in the City by the Lake. I can see the TV cameras focusing lovingly on Buckingham Fountain, Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park, Belmont Harbor and other tourist magnets. Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, the city’s major contributions to world cuisine, finally would get the attention they deserve. So would 16-inch softball, Chicago’s gift to the world of sports; I’m sure they’ll be able to work it into the Olympic schedule. Thillens Stadium would be the perfect venue.

Yes, I know there are naysayers. Their argument is the same as it always is for such endeavors, centering on the immorality of spending millions (billions?) of dollars on a sports extravaganza when so many societal needs go unmet. But hey—why limit that to sports? One can make the same case that a better use could be made of every buck we spend on booze, cigars, cigarettes, chewing gum, candy bars, lattes, comic books, bad movies, massages and cocaine, but the world doesn’t work that way.

As you know if you follow this space, I’m against spending public money for new stadiums for our domestic sports staples of baseball, football and basketball. That’s because the vast majority of the revenues those facilities generate are local and they serve only to funnel money away from other local entertainments and into the pockets of team owners. Money spent on Olympic installations would be different because the Games would be a tourist bonanza for Chicago that would continue well past the time the athletes leave.

Further, from what I’ve seen of the city’s Olympic plans, relatively little money would go into building new facilities. Existing structures would accommodate most events, with the main exception being a sort of erector-set stadium for track and field and the opening and closing ceremonies, slated for Washington Park. After the Games it would be disassembled and a smaller stadium built on the site for local use. That would be a lasting plus. So, too, would the considerable sum of federal cash that would go into updating Chicago’s public-transit system to better serve visitors, and, of course, residents.

The main reason for my optimism, though, has nothing to do with bricks and mortar, civic spirit, or, even, Italian beef. It’s the natural affinity between the two main legislative bodies that would be involved in a Chicago Olympics, the Chicago City Council and the IOC. Although municipal graft wasn’t invented in Chicago, and certainly exists elsewhere, it was brought to such an art in the City Council that the late Royko held that the English translation of the city’s Latin motto—“Urbus en Horto”—is “Where’s mine?” The IOC has a similar rep, similarly well earned; no IOC member ever has been seen exiting the rear door of an airliner.

The good-old boys from Georgia greased many an IOC palm to obtain the 1996 Summer Games for Atlanta, as did Salt Lake City’s agents in landing the 2002 Winter Games. A couple of SLC people resigned in disgrace after that vote, as did 10 IOC members. But the bottom line was that the Games stayed in the virtuous Beehive State.

I see where President Obama plans to be in Copenhagen to make the city’s final pitch to the IOC. That’s great—he’s persuasive. But smart as he is I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a delegation of city councilmen—past and present—surreptitiously accompany him to seal the deal. He should include Alderman Eddie Burke from the current council, and get a prison furlough for ex-Ald. Eddie Vrdolyak so he could make the trip. If those two can’t swing it, nobody can.

I’m just sorry Tom Keane isn’t still around. If he were, it’d really be a slam dunk for my home town.

POSTING A COMMENT: Getting in your two-cents worth via comments is a big part of blogging, and I welcome yours. Several people have told me they’ve tried to comment on my efforts at various times but failed to get theirs posted, so here’s a how-to:
At the end of the column click on the word “comments.” That will take you to another screen. Write your comment in the box, then copy the “verification” letters in the box that’s provided. Skip the stuff about “user name” and “password”—it’s not required. Click on the “name/url” circle. Put your name in the box that’s provided or click on the “anonymous” circle. If you wish, click on “review” to check what you’ve written, or go immediately to “publish.” You can do it!

BUSINESS NOTE: If you’re in or around Scottsdale on Sunday, Nov. 1, you might drop into the book fair at the Jewish Community Center at 12701 N. Scottsdale Rd. I’ll be speaking about my “For the Love of…” books, and other things, starting at 9:30 a.m.


Ed Hammerman said...

It's the graft we have to look forward to if Chicago gets the games. The money into the friends of the Daley machine will exceed expectations! As far as Fast Eddie is concerned, you've been away from home too long.... he never served a day in the hoos gow! Some things never change.

skaps said...

As a lifelong Cub fan, I am fully expecting to be dissapointed on Oct 2.

Oprah, Mayor Daley and the Obamas are formidable, but I wouldn't be surprised if the delegation from Rio showed up with a billy goat, a true and correct copy of Alphonso Soriano's contract, and Steve Bartman.

That would sure do it for them.

Andrew said...

I'm excited for Friday also, however I have a nagging suspicion that Rio is going to prevail. That being said, I can't believe you didn't mention Deep Dish Pizza as a great Chicago culinary contribution.

Mike Levy said...

Hey Fred, WTF! Why not Chi Town? Like you've said, Chicago has it all. I'm really pulling for Chicago to get the Olympics. They already have the necessary inrastructure and amenities. It'll help the economy both locally and nationaly.

I can remember when Philly was supposed to be the focal point of America's bi-centenial festivities. The local politicians screwed up a great opportunity to make some long-term and badly needed city improvements, but guys like our then mayor, Frank Rizzo scared the crap out of everyone and plans in the works for decades were scrapped. The celebration that should have taken place in the birthplace of our nation, never materialized. Better luck, Chicago.

Patrick Dobel said...

I think Chicago's loss came about from the geo-politics of the Olympics. They needed a new southern continent especially after the World Cup went to South Africa. It also reflects the increasing European domination of the Olympic Committee. The exclusion of Softball and baseball follow from some of the same logic.