September 18th, 2009



We will soon know whether the 2016 Olympics are to take place here in Chicago. Inevitably and predictably, this issue has been tossed back and forth between various factions, mindsets, and ideologies.

The first division is between those who don’t believe in the Olympics at all, regardless of location, versus those who see the Olympics as a powerful symbol and example of international cooperation.

Next, we have those who believe that the IOC and the USOC are corrupt, elitist organizations that ought to go away; that they are always on the lookout for large bribes and are very comfortable with having their asses kissed, versus those who either don’t see them that way or who believe that this is a small, perhaps necessary, price to pay for the existence of this wonderful institution.

More locally, we have Chicagoans who support the games either because they believe there’s money in it for them or because they are genuinely thrilled at the idea of Chicago being placed on the world stage as never before. Across the fence from them are the Chicagoans who view the local power structure as utterly corrupt and figure that someone is going to make a killing – probably at the considerable expense of the masses.

So it comes down to me now. I’m a Chicagoan – do I want our Olympic bid to be accepted? My feelings are a little mixed up on that score. On the one hand, I find it utterly plausible that someone has got my pocketbook squarely in their sights, and that the IOC, the USOC, the mayor, and select contractors/connected parties may very well be in this to make a big money grab. Still, none of that surprises me. I’m cynical enough that I think the vast majority of really BIG projects involve corruption, political maneuvering, favoritism, and cost overruns into the pockets of connected individuals. So it was in the ancient world; so it remains today. I’m not crazy about it, but I’m not going to just wish it away.

On the other hand, I have a romantic side that cries out: “We do not do this because it is a GOOD idea. No! Not at all! We do it because it is a GLORIOUS idea! If you are fortunate, you may see such a spectacle come to your city once in your life, so do not turn blithely away when such an international spectacle presents itself upon your doorstep.” Oh, I know how that sounds – it isn’t logical; it isn’t scientific; it isn’t all sorts of things. But it IS human. We are not logic machines – not very good ones anyway – and we never can become logic machines without becoming something other than human. So the part of me that embraces the Olympics is something human; something essential; something I must be true to in some manner.

So is that it then? Sign off on the Olympics and let the Corrupt Ones have their way with me and my foolish dreams? Sell myself out to the Fantasy Merchants? Not a very appetizing scenario when I put it that way, is it? It is also well worth noting that the Olympics happen because thousands upon thousands of people all over the world – who aren’t getting rich – are working their butts off to be a part of something they fervently believe in. And that is why I describe my feelings as ‘a little mixed up.’ This I know – whatever choice the IOC makes, there is a part of me that will rejoice, and a part of me that will feel a little sad.
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