Obamalympics: Is Obama's lobbying of the IOC a recipe for multi-billion-dollar financial disaster?

Let Madrid, Rio, or Tokyo have the 2016 Olympic Games. Mr. President, if you love Chicago, you will ask the IOC to spend that summer anywhere but your adopted hometown.

As we predicted last week, yesterday President Obama flip-flopped on traveling to Copenhagen to lobby the Olympic committee. According to the NY Times: 

“I think [the President] hopes that he can make a strong case for Chicago and America’s bid for the Olympics in 2016,” the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said in a briefing Monday, referring to Mr. Obama’s whirlwind trip. “Obviously, any Olympics showcases the country that those Olympics are in, and there’s a tangible economic benefit to those Games being here. And the president wants to help out America’s bid.”

Not so fast. Writing at length in our pages, Chicago native and former Punk Planet editor ANNE ELIZABETH MOORE wrote last week about the troubling legacy of "mega-events" like the Olympics: they always promise economic renewal, but end up destroying the economies of the cities that host them:

 The exact price of hosting the Summer Olympic Games . . . is under dispute. (The Winter Olympics, which bring in a quarter of the money and tourists, are actually classified by sociologists as just a “major” sports event.) Leading sports economist Allen Sanderson of the University of Chicago, however, is clear on one point: “Generally, these things lose money.”

The London 2012 Games, for example, were predicted to cost around $3.3 billion USD when the bid was submitted six years ago. That price tag has since quadrupled, and watchers agree that the cost will quintuple before Opening Day.

Moore goes on to revisit the economic fallout of Summer Olympics since 1976, when Montreal lost $2 billion. Bostonians, who could be in line for a 2020 Olympics bid if Chicago falls short, should beware the Big Dig-like cost overruns ($10 billion) that befell the 2004 Athens games. China is estimated to have spent upwards of $40 billion on construction and infrastructure improvements. And Chicago? Moore elaborates:

Estimates before the bid was submitted had Chicago spending about $2 billion, not counting the Michael Reese Hospital–site Olympic Village construction plans, which committed another $1.1 billion in public funds to the effort — all told, about equal to London’s original $3.3 billion estimate . . . In ensuing months, however, Chicago’s estimate has ballooned to $4.8 billion . . . in a state already $9 billion in the red, and in a city where layoffs, mortgage foreclosures, public-school shut-downs, and social-service closures have hit record highs.

Then consider that we’re still a week away from the host-city selection date, when the real spending begins.

When the IOC votes on Friday, it could very well be getting Chicagoans into a mess that'll take a generation to pay off. As Moore writes, "quiet chatter about bringing a mega-sports event to town can swiftly result in backroom deals that commit public land, services, and funds to a fancy two-week-long sports party that makes an AIG executive retreat seem relatively thrifty. You might look up one day not too far in the future to find yourself battling both City Hall and every jock in town for rights to your city."

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