Will 2016 Olympics really be a prize for the host city?
The Olympics cost billions and often leave venues deep in debt. But they inspire civic pride.
By all appearances, the four finalists for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games desperately want to win.Skip to next paragraph
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The question is why.
The 1976 Olympics left Montreal with a $1 billion debt, which the province of Quebec fully paid off only in 2006. Australian taxpayers pay $32 million a year to maintain Sydney Olympic venues that now go largely unused. The projected budget for London 2012 was $3.9 billion; it's now $15.1 billion and climbing.
The bid cities of Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, and Madrid had many hopes going into the International Olympic Committee meeting Friday in Copenhagen, Denmark, at which the IOC will choose the 2016 host city. Chicago is hoping for international prestige to pip New York and Los Angeles. Rio hopes it will boost commerce and industry in the city. Yet Olympic historians say the cities can be certain of only one thing: a massive jolt to the municipal ego.
"It's civic pride," says Ed Hula, publisher of Around the Rings, a newsletter that follows the Olympic bid process. "It's the idea that 'we can do this' – that it's important and part of the city's history."
From pride to promotion
This notion of civic pride has often veered toward global promotion. Salt Lake City was eager to prove the falsity of stereotypes that portrayed Utah's Mormon community as insular and odd. Turin sought the Olympic spotlight to reinvent itself, saying it was more than the "Detroit of Italy" – it was an equal of Rome, Milan, or Florence. And Beijing's Olympics were nothing less than an astounding attempt to announce China's arrival as a world power.
Chicago's bid is unusual because of the high-profile involvement of Mayor Daley, who is "a far more powerful and engaging figure than any other person on the US Olympic Committee," says Mr. Hula.