Saturday, October 03, 2009


The first thing to understand about the International Olympic Committee is that it regards itself as, and in many ways is, a sovereign political entity, a country with no permanent address that borrows a part of some other nation's land mass once every two years. Whether it's the President of the U.S. or the President of Mali pitching their country as an Olympic host site cuts no ice with the IOC. In their heads, the committee outranks them all.

It's beyond arrogance. It's a kind of blissful insularity, quite similar to the attitude most Americans have towards the world outside our borders. So we shouldn't be too shocked if we're hoisted on that particular petard every so often. The IOC has calendars. By the time of the 2016 Olympics, every single elected leader who lobbied for a city to be the site of those games (Japan, the U.S, and Brazil sent pols, Spain sent its King, which is much more the IOC's speed) will either be out of office or, in the best case for Barack Obama, a lame duck. Why care what they think?

The second thing to understand about the IOC is that its members are really, really, really into sports. They may be pompous, clueless, and more of a few of them may be corrupt, but bigger sports fans you won't meet -- anywhere ever. That's why the best way to understand why Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Games and not Chicago is to consider the question from the point of view of the average fan, which I assume anyone reading this is.

OK, fan, make the following mind experiment. Imagine that you are being asked to select a location for attending a three-week festival of more sports than it's possible to watch located in one of the world's great cities. You will live in luxury and convenience Queen Elizabeth might envy during the festival, all at someone else's expense. All you have to do is choose between Chicago and Rio.

I daresay a wide majority of American fans would pick Rio. Nothing against Chicago, anybody who's visited there loves the place, me included, but you know, there are a lot more opportunities in life to visit Chicago than there are to get to Rio. I can testify from personal (incredibly lucky) experience that being in a great place you'd never get to see otherwise is about the best part of the Olympics. A track meet is just a track meet, after all.

I'm willing to bet a considerable sum that the above reasoning is what swung the IOC vote to Rio away from its more developed (i.e. organized and safe) rivals for the 2016 Games. Rio sounded like more fun, so it got the event.

As a sports fan, I have difficulty arguing with a sports organization that chooses fun as its top priority.


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