2016 gets closer: Chicago’s bid intensifies

By John Lendman

It’s safe to assume that few athletes have even thought of training for the 2016 Olympic Games, but four major cities across the globe are competing for the chance to host them-with much at stake.

With the conclusion of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Chicago has officially begun its global bid as a host city finalist to the International Olympic Committee, vying against Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro.

The Chicago 2016 delegation was presented with a series of valuable lessons while observing Beijing’s organizing committee, said U.S. Olympic Committee spokesperson Darryl Seibel. They took notes on how Beijing hosted the international athletes and how they went about fulfilling their host city responsibilities.

Chicago 2016 bid leader Patrick Ryan said he was impressed by the thousands of Beijing volunteers, lack of traffic congestion, smoothly-run public transportation system and the extraordinary Olympic venues, when speaking at a news conference at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s hospitality center, USA House, according to the Chicago Tribune. Ryan was in Beijing last week with the Official Candidate City Observer program.

It seems Beijing had a complete infrastructure upgrade, said James Hevia, University of Chicago International Studies Director. Hevia, who specializes in modern Chinese studies, visited Beijing during the games and also instructs at U of C’s study abroad program in Beijing.

He said the new facilities were built on an “unprecedented scale.” As a South Side resident living among Chicago’s proposed Olympic Village in the Bronzeville neighborhood, he said he found it hard to conceive how Chicago could match Beijing’s enhancement.

Thousands of Olympic-logo-clad volunteers were in kiosks all over the city, including the airports, subways and bus stations, many with English-speaking assistants, Hevia said.

The city’s transportation systems had been upgraded with the expansion of new bus routes and subway lines, he said, and the streets, which had significantly reduced traffic, had designated Olympic-traffic lanes.

“To absolutely eliminate half the cars from the road for a two-week period is not something that would really happen here,” Hevia said. “[And] I can’t imagine how they would have major Olympic venues on the South Side of Chicago without improving public transport.”

Chicago’s Olympic bid committee, Chicago 2016, claims more than 16 major benefits would come from hosting the Olympic Games, such as generating economic profit with new Olympic venues and producing infrastructure and transportation improvements, which will serve as a catalyst for urban revitalization in Chicago, according to a Chicago 2016 press advisory.

Chicago 2016 anticipates bringing in approximately $705 million in revenue from ticket sales with about 16,000 athletes, coaches and team officials residing in the Olympic Village proposed along Lake Michigan in the South Loop. The temporary stadium and Athletes Village is projected to be built in Washington Park on the city’s South Side.

Until now, Chicago was working domestically to gain public support. While visiting Beijing, Mayor Richard M. Daley, Ryan and a team of Chicago 2016 committee members got a chance to meet with IOC members to officially launch their international bid, said Robert Livingstone, producer of GameBids.com-an objective reference and commentary to the Olympic bid industry.

“The stakes are higher now for Chicago,” Livingstone said. “They have to feel out the IOC members … and see what they liked and didn’t like about Beijing during the games.”

GamesBid.com regularly updates its host city bid rating system, the BidIndex, which acts as an evaluation report based on previous bids. It looks at each applicant city’s public support and their overall chances of succeeding with the IOC. All four cities are tied at a 60 percent probability, according to the latest BidIndex results.

Chicago has a decent chance, but it’s more of a geopolitical issue, Livingstone said.

“Rio [de Janeiro] has the fact that [the IOC] has never hosted in South America before; there is definitely pressure to go in that direction,” he said. “But the Latin American votes might be split between Madrid and Rio [de Janeiro], which may be a negative for those bids.”

However, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro could also help each other out by being each other’s second choice for IOC members, he said, and Tokyo will probably lose the bid because IOC members may not want to host the games in another Asian country so soon after Beijing.

As Chicago enters its international bid stage, Livingstone said, Chicago should expect the bid to get intense, filled with various meetings and events around the globe of national and continental Olympic meetings fighting for IOC attention.

“The presentations are usually extreme in how glamorous they can become,” he said. “Whenever any bid team gets a chance to talk to an IOC member, it’s their opportunity to seize that moment.”

The last major milestone for Chicago 2016 will be when they submit their official bid book to the IOC early next year, Seibel said. The bid book will provide a detailed plan outlining how Chicago will organize and stage the games.

The IOC evaluation commission will then conduct detailed evaluations of each of the four applicant cities around the end of March, he said.

The IOC general assembly will meet on Oct. 2, 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark to decide who will host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

“Every bid city is going to have something in their back pocket,” Livingstone said.