Bidding war? What is it good for?
Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics reached its peak this week when the most respected, influential and famous person in the United States traveled to Copenhagen to make the Windy City's case before the International Olympic Committee:
Oh, and President Obama will be there as well to make Chicago's case before the IOC picks a host city Friday. Ever since Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin swayed votes for the 2012 and 2014 Games, sending your head of state to the IOC is considered as much of a prerequisite in an Olympic bid as a well-placed "contribution."
Cities spend several years and upward of $100 million making their bids for the Olympics. In this country, they must first outbid several other equally determined, high-spending U.S. cities for the honor of being chosen by the USOC as the American bid city.
Then, they battle for two years against three other cities from around the world, working out logistics, stadium costs, transportation issues, security concerns and funding plans (Sochi, Russia, which won the bid for the 2014 Winter Games, transported a skating rink to Guatemala in its bid two years ago). And when the years of hard work end, when all the political leaders, celebrities and power brokers have twisted the last elbow, slapped the last back and greased the final palm, three cities will not be chosen and all their efforts will be in vain.
These cities are the winners. The loser is the city chosen to host the Olympics.
Don't get me wrong. I love the Olympics. I've covered eight Olympics on four continents and they've provided some of the most thrilling, memorable and enjoyable experiences of my career. Attending an Olympics is the most rewarding experience there is for a sports fan, especially if you can get inside the Dutch Heineken House.
But would I want my own city to host an Olympics? No way. For seven years, your city's agenda is hijacked by everything Olympics. Despite all assurances to the contrary, tax money will be required to bridge funding gaps. All for 17 days. And all you get for it is a cheap shirt and straw hat that you wore for three weeks straight as a "volunteer" while helping corporate sponsors go see the events you couldn't afford to attend.
Each new host city spends billions building facilities that will rarely, if ever, be used again (the famed Bird's Nest in Beijing isn't even being used for sports anymore). A Russian newspaper reported recently that Sochi might spend $33 billion for the Olympics (what, are they using the same folks who built Yankee Stadium?). And while Chicago's $4.8 billion bid more sensibly utilizes many existing structures, the entire Olympic bid process is insane. The investment simply isn't worth the enormous costs and headaches anymore.
That's why it's time to go old-school and return to the ancient Olympic formula of permanent sites for the Games.
It just makes sense.
Build the facilities once and reuse them. It would save money, time, effort and headaches. It would make the Olympics a simpler, purer event. It will remove a thick layer of ugly politics from a grossly politicized competition. With the money saved by not repeatedly building venues, you could spread the broadcasting money around to national Olympic committees to better fund their athletes. That way, you make the competitions richer, not some city's business leaders.
Sure, permanent sites would take away some of the romance of rotating locales, but I doubt that even sports writers would complain about these destinations.
For the Summer Games, Athens is the top choice, boasting gorgeous weather in a historic city. Greece is the home of the ancient Olympics and a two-time host of the modern Games (the 2004 Olympics were exceptionally run). Holding the shot put at Olympia in 2004 was the greatest Turn Back the Clock in sports history. The second choice would be Sydney. Again, it has great weather in a beautiful, cosmopolitan city. And hey, you could bring back baseball with major leaguers by pushing the Olympics into Australia's summer.
For the Winter Games, Lillehammer is the obvious pick. Everyone loved the 1994 Games (well, everyone but Tonya Harding). Lillehammer is a lovely, cozy town filled with Norwegians crazed about winter sports (and most of them speak English). Plus, no disturbing backdrop of human-rights violations. Backup: Innsbruck. Salt Lake City was great and I'm sure Vancouver will be wonderful, but the Winter Olympics really need snow and an alpine village atmosphere, so I submit this two-time host in the Austrian Alps.
Those are only suggestions, of course. There are many other superb possible cities and I'm sure the American TV networks that fuel the Olympics would have their own ideas. Which brings up the biggest drawback to the proposal.
If the bidding among cities to host a single Olympics has gotten out of control, imagine what it would be like for the "honor" of hosting them all.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net.
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