Hosting an Olympics can bring a city international acclaim and boost its economy — or create massive debt. Chicago is hoping for the former scenario as it tries to bring the Olympics back to the United States.
It's one of four cities vying for the 2016 Summer Games, and it was the first to be inspected by an International Olympic Committee evaluation team, which just wrapped up a six-day visit.
Chicago is trying to best Madrid, Toyko and Rio de Janeiro in the quest to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games of 2016. As the IOC evaluators came to town, Chicago's 2016 Committee turned to some big-name help. In a videotaped message, President Obama, a Chicagoan, welcomed the evaluators:
"Once you discover the Chicago that I know — the city that I made my home, the city where my wife grew up, the city where we raised our daughters just blocks from where these games will be held — I'm confident you will discover that you are already in the perfect host city for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games."
Support From The Administration
In what organizers called a watershed development for a U.S. Olympic bid, the Obama administration is offering even more support. Top presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett will head a White House office for the Olympics if Chicago wins the bid. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the State Department would streamline the process that allows families of athletes to enter the country.
Over the weekend, the evaluation team toured all of Chicago's planned Olympic venues.
Marching bands greeted them and young athletes performed at a number of the sites. Much of the venue structure is already in place: The city plans to use existing facilities such as Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears football team. And the venue layout is compact, with many of the facilities clustered around the city's lakefront.
The 2016 committee asked former Olympic athletes for their input. Gold medal gymnast Nadia Comaneci says the plan will allow many athletes to get to training or competition venues within 15 minutes.
Another plus, Comaneci says, is the city's diversity: "I think here every time you turn the corner, you will find somebody speaking your language and cheering for you. It's very good for the athletes to feel, if you're not home you still feel [at] home, because there will be people from your country that live here."
Chicago's 2016 Committee says the nearly $5 billion cost of the games will be funded primarily by private dollars. Rio, Toyko and Madrid all have blanket guarantees from their governments that cover any financial risk. Chicago has a guarantee of $750 million from the city and state.
Even so, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley says the Olympics bid for Chicago is financially sound. "It's very reasonable, very conservative and very feasible to me. That is the key," Daley says. "And most importantly, taxpayers will not have spent any money on this."
The Summer Games were last held in the United States in 1996, when Atlanta was the host city. Bob Quellos with No Games Chicago, a citizen group opposed to Chicago's bid to host the 2016 games, says they shouldn't come back.
"The reality is when you actually go around and talk to people, they are saying, 'Why do we need this?' " he says. "They look at the crumbling infrastructure in the city, the crumbling schools, and I think people are generally wondering, 'Why aren't our priorities elsewhere?' "
The No Games group met with the IOC evaluation team to express its concerns. But IOC Chairwoman Nawal El Moutawakel says as her team toured the city, it felt strong support for Chicago's Olympic bid.
"We have been most impressed to see what Chicago could offer to the Olympic Games and to the Olympic movement," she says.
Next on the visit list is Tokyo, which hosted the games in 1964, then Rio and Madrid. In October the full IOC will meet in Copenhagen to decide which of the four cities will host the 2016 games. Chicago organizers hope President Obama will be on hand to help seal an Olympic deal for his hometown.