Obama and Chicago 2016

It is almost too tempting to become ironic and lighthearted about an issue that may be quite important, if one realizes that one has absolutely no influence on the matter and that, even worse, there can be no expectation that it will be decided in a fair, rational, and transparent manner. So, even if right now, less than 3 weeks before the day of reckoning, there are many who nervously ponder the chances of Chicago to land the 2016 Olympics, I hope I am forgiven if I am slightly cynical about the whole process.

My reaction is triggered by the many ‘interesting’ comments in the media about the (final?) decision by President Obama to send the First Lady to the IOC Congress instead of going himself. The comments are interesting in two ways: first in the sense that they involve an amusing speculation as to which member of this couple would have the best chances of having a positive impact, and second because they reveal some rather naïve or ignorant ideas about the decision-making by the IOC members.

It seems that some people believe that the decision-making process is entirely rational (sort of: ‘may be the best city win’, whatever ‘best’ happens to mean), while others hint at an awareness that other ‘arguments’ may be more important. I don’t want to get into a lot of examples here from the very nasty history of IOC’s host city selections. Instead I would recommend that you read at least one of the very articulate and revealing books by Andrew Jennings about such matters. But it is quite clear that the greed and vanity of some IOC members has always played an important role over the years.

So it is quite conceivable that the presence or absence or President Obama could be a factor, not because he would be able to use his eloquence or because it would somehow show that the weight of the entire U.S. government is behind the Chicago bid, but because it just might be taken as a snub by some voters that the President sent his wife, in the full knowledge that the King of Spain, the Crown Prince of Japan, and the President of Brazil will be present. Yes, those IOC members are used to being treated as the equals of kings and presidents, so they are not easy to please.

But international politics may matter more after all. At the beginning of the year, it may have been seen as a foregone conclusion that it would be a big plus for Chicago to have Obama as the new U.S. President. Where it now stands may be less clear. But the status of the U.S. in the minds of those who vote has many more dimensions. Money is a key factor in many ways, and the yield from the Olympics, including sponsor contracts and television deals is high on the list. Traditional political and cultural ties are also vital. For, instance, it seems like a certainty that Madrid and Rio will pool their resources and their votes as soon as it is clear that one of them is out of the running.

Of course, questions have also continued to be raised: is it really such a good thing if Chicago wins!? The tax payers of Chicago and Illinois may be less than sure about that. But if you look at it selfishly as a sports fan, and particularly a fanatic in a small sport such as handball, it seems you must argue that ‘there is everything to gain, nothing to lose’. I guess it would (quite hypothetically) be even better to have a handball World Championship on U.S soil as a PR weapon, as an Olympic handball tournament is more likely to ‘disappear’ within the overall event. But certainly it could provide a boost for handball (and other sports that are similarly situated on the U.S. sports scene) that one would hope might be better utilized than what seems to have been the case after 1984 in Los Angeles and 1996 in Atlanta.

I will finish on that note for the moment, in the expectation that John Ryan will write something less ‘ironic and light-hearted’ on the topic, either before or after October 2. But, just for the sake of ‘full disclosure’, I feel obliged to reveal my biases: unbeknownst to most of my handball friends in the U.S. and around the world, I have roots in Chicago!!! Yes, I am a native of Sweden, but it so happens that my mother’s father was born in Chicago in the late 1890s, before his parents moved back with him to Sweden. So would it not be great to have the 2016 handball tournament take place in Andersonville… (although that is not quite what the Chicago proposal suggests).