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Bask in Olympic Gold, or live in tarnish?

Members of the tradeshow community in Chicago engaged in a collective sigh of relief as the Windy City was eliminated as a candidate for the 2016 Summer Olympics last month. With an economy battered by the recession, many were concerned the Olympics would have a catastrophic effect on the industry.

The Olympics are one of the premiere sporting events in the world, with thousands of spectators and the spotlight of the entire world on your city for a three-week period. One would think Chicagoans would welcome this event as a way to showcase their hometown, but almost half of city residents were opposed to the event being held here.

Potential host cities see the huge amounts of money that surround the games and desperately desire the income that it can bring. It seems, at times, as if they are willing to do whatever it takes to land the games, even if the price they pay exceeds the most optimistic projection of economic benefit.

The sad reality of hosting the games is that they rarely make any money and often leave the host city with a mountain of debt after the party is over and everybody has left. The taxpayers must make up difference between the expenditure and the income. For example, it took Montreal 31 years to pay the debt incurred during the 1976 Olympics.

There is an enormous amount of infrastructure that has to be provided before a city is considered. Stadiums, or perhaps a Luge track or Velodrome, must be constructed before the games can proceed. This can cost a lot of money and can have dubious value after the games are over. The International Olympic Committee is very demanding about the standards before they will even consider a city.

Potential host cities often engage in an auction-like frenzy where ego-based competition takes the place of prudent financial decision making. Politicians often assure the citizens the games will pay for themselves and then expose them to enormous financial obligation in order to comply with their promises to the International Olympic Committee. Recent Olympic history is a good example of this. The costs of the Athens games in 2004 doubled their original estimates and London in 2012 has almost tripled their initial projections to over $16.5 billion.

If the games were to be held in Chicago, McCormick Place would have been the center of administrative activity and indoor athletic competition. This was the major concern for the tradeshow industry because it would have meant a great deal of work before and during the games. The shows normally booked during this period would have been displaced and relocated to other cities.

These other cities would have graciously welcomed such a windfall during these tough economic times but would have fought like hell to retain these shows. I’m sure they weren’t pleased when they found out Chicago didn’t get the Olympics.

The Olympics began in ancient Greece and were revived in 1894 in an attempt to foster mutual respect and friendship through the pursuit of excellence in athletic competition. However, over the years, political exploitation, professionalism of the athletes and corporate influence have changed the way we think of the games. In a real sense they have become a victim of their own success, as its popularity has transcended the original philosophical objectives and became a self-perpetuating behemoth.

This is the reason many are glad Chicago won’t be hosting the games ­– 76 percent of Chicagoans were opposed to having the games here if it meant public funds would be used to pay the costs. The International Olympic Committee knew this and chose a city willing to underwrite the illusion and perpetuate this farce. I wish Rio the best, I hope the three weeks you spend basking in world attention is worth it.

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