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Problems persist in Chicago’s Olympic bid

The Olympic Games occur for just two weeks every two years, but for athletes the memories last a lifetime. What many do not realize is that the Games also instill new life into the host city. That is, depending on the host city’s status prior to the Games.

Heitor Almeida, professor of finance at the University, doesn’t think Chicago’s status looks good heading into the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision on Oct. 2 in Copenhagen.

“Unfortunately, it’s the wrong time for us to be looking at a project like that,” Almeida said, taking into account the economies of both Chicago and the United States. “It’s guaranteed to generate losses.”

For the four candidates bidding for the 2016 Olympic Games — Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago — winning the bid is not only about sport; it’s also about improving their city for years to come. But first they must devise a plan to make those improvements.

Funding the festivities

When applying to host the Olympic Games, each bid city must submit a budget, which is typically developed by Olympic experts and audited by independent firms, according to the Chicago 2016 Committee Web site.

The Chicago 2016 bid is all privately financed, and if it’s awarded the bid the Games would be financed entirely through private sources, according to the Web site. This means no taxpayer money has been used or would be used to support the Games in Chicago.

Furthermore, Illinois sports information director Kent Brown said the Chicago 2016 Committee has not yet reached out to the University for financial contributions. Things may change if Chicago does receive the bid.

Almeida, who is originally from Brazil (home to Rio de Janeiro, one of Chicago’s competitors for the bid), said hosting an Olympic Games typically ends up in a loss of profit. He noted the IOC is well aware of the current state of Chicago’s economy and will take that into heavy consideration.

“Given the fact that the city finances and the state finances are in such bad shape, I think that might actually play against Chicago,” Almeida said. “It is going to be (the most) important factor against Chicago’s candidacy.”

Almeida said Rio de Janeiro is the strongest candidate in his mind right now.

“The finances in the Brazilian state have improved a lot. It seems the state has already given full support to the Olympics in terms of playing shortfall (in finances),” he said, referring to the fact that Chicago is in an economic downturn while Rio de Janeiro’s economy is on the rise.

Hosting the Games markets the city in the long-term and creates several new infrastructures, something Chicago 2016 head spokesperson Patrick Sandusky said will be beneficial.

“The Games would generate more than $22 billion in new economic activity — spending that otherwise would not take place — from 2011 through 2021. The city would reap $13.7 billion of this benefit,” Sandusky said.

Meanwhile, 2008 bronze medalist and Illinois men’s associate head gymnastics coach Justin Spring said Beijing didn’t spend as much money as it could have at the 2008 Olympic Games because it employed so many volunteers.

“I really think that to make an event this size run smoothly without spending billions of dollars, you need a lot of volunteers and people willing to help,” Spring said.

“I think that Americans are extremely patriotic, but the problem comes down especially with the economy right now. It’s going to be hard to find the amount of volunteers that you need without providing them compensation that’s going to put the Chicago 2016 bid over the budget.”

In Beijing, Spring said he saw volunteers standing every 50 feet or so in the Olympic Village, adding that there were almost too many of them. However, he cannot easily envision American volunteers standing off Lake Michigan like he saw the Chinese volunteers doing so in Beijing.

“One thing that I think we’re going to struggle with in the United States is volunteer hours,” Spring said. “The volunteers (in China) got paid very, very minimal, but they were just happy to be there because they were going to be taken care of. You’re not going to find many volunteers that are going to take time off their jobs because they need to work over here.”

Awaiting ‘Blue-Green’ light from IOC

One of the key components of Chicago’s bid plan is its concept for the “Blue-Green Games,” reflecting the blue of Lake Michigan and the green of Chicago’s parks.

According to its Web site, the Chicago 2016 Committee would aim to minimize carbon emissions, conserve water and minimize waste. In addition, all electricity during the Games would come from renewable energy sources, and following the Games, seats in temporary stadiums would be converted into wheelchairs that would be donated to individuals in developing countries.

“Public shuttles and other vehicles used for the Games would be powered by low-carbon fuels or electricity,” said Sandusky.

“The amount of water used in the Olympic Village and venues will be reduced by 20 percent from normal levels in a plan that focuses on storm water collection, reuse and application of best practices in water management and conservation,” Sandusky added.

Tormenting traffic

If Chicago is awarded the bid, one of the most controversial issues appears to be transportation within the city itself. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) does not yet have a specific plan in place and therefore declined an interview with The Daily Illini.

Patrick Ryan, CEO and chairman of the Chicago 2016 Committee, said 17 train lines serve the area around McCormick Place.

“We have a high level of confidence that they will be able to handle the crowds,” Ryan said.

Ryan noted that Grant Park held nearly 240,000 spectators when Barack Obama spoke on election night — a similar figure to the number of spectators in the center district during an Olympic Games. Chicago also hosts thousands annually for its July 3 fireworks display.

Chicago’s bid proposes that no parking would be allowed at venues, and thus everyone would have to take public transit or ride shuttles. It also proposes an Olympic Lanes network, and Lake Shore Drive would be an eight-lane Olympic Boulevard connecting 15 different competition venues.

Yet Spring remains worried.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do with traffic,” Spring said. “In China, they took half the cars off the road. Traffic was still a nightmare, but if your car ended in an odd number on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, you’re off the road … They had odd and even days. Half the cars were off they road, and traffic was still crazy.”

Spring said in Beijing there were special Olympic lanes on the roadways that were only to be used by Olympic-licensed vehicles, which were reserved mostly for athletes and coaches.

“I think China was able to do a little extra stuff because of the way their government is,” Spring added. “You’re not going to be able to tell an American citizen to get off the road. They’re going to be like, ‘Yeah, right. No way.'”

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