Could Chicago host the Olympic Games?

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Monday, February 24, 2014 - 8:40am

The Sochi Olympics raised a number of questions about whether or not a developing city can and should host the Olympics. With Rio preparing for 2016 and Tokyo planning for 2020, IOC has two immediate tasks: carefully monitor the Rio preparations and start the search for 2024 Summer Games host.

Could Chicago host the 2024 Summer Olympics? Could we bring the world to Chicago and remind them that there’s more to Windy City than Al Capone and deep dish pizza?

The short answer is no. Earlier this week, Sarah Hamilton, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said Chicago is not interested.

But if we wanted to, could Chicago successfully host the Olympic Games?

Not right now. Not the way our city currently operates.

We saw how Russia tried to revitalize Sochi but created #SochiProblems instead. Closer to home, if you head into the Loop you’ll find “The Olympic City,” an art exhibit dedicated to Olympic venues that have fallen in disrepair and are no longer in use.

The most successful host to date was London during the 2012 Summer Olympics. The Brits developed the East End of the city, renovated and expanded an existing infrastructure and built a legacy that extends beyond the Olympics and Paralympics.

The London 2012 Olympic Village was converted into affordable housing - something the British capital desperately needs. Every venue in the Olympic Park had a future use after the Games, a first for any Olympic host. And since 2012 Games, the city has won more than $6 billion of private sector investments linked to the Games.

Chicago could mirror some of London’s success, but our initial plans were nowhere near this good. 

Our bid focused on developing a five mile “Olympic Ring” on the south side, with an Olympic Village on the site of Michael Reese Hospital and emphasis on temporary venues to reduce the financial impact. Six years later, the city owes $96 million for the dormant hospital and is rushing to develop a plan for the 48-acre site. Ideas for the space include a 50,000-resident community, a technology hub and Barack Obama’s presidential library.

Before Chicago considers another Olympic bid, we’d need to sort out the city’s finances, eliminate our $33 billion of debt, strengthen the CPS system and reduce gun violence. Finally, the organizers need to win the support Chicagoans.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate the success of Team USA, cheer for the Paralympic atheltes competing in Sochi right now and continue to develop great athletes. Congratulations to the athletes that represented Chicago and thank you for bringing a small piece of the Olympics back to Chicago.


My Olympic Creds: I lived in London from 2011-2013, where I worked with Olympic sponsors. In 2012 spent three month working in Lausanne, Switzerland – home of the IOC headquarters. During the 2016 bid, I lived in the Chicago and I was part of a Chicago-based PR team working for Tokyo’s 2016. Additionally, I visited both Atlanta and Park City, Utah less than a year after each city hosted the Olympics. For pictures, news and highlights from my Olympic experiences, visit Joe The Explorer.

Joe Piehl's picture
Chicago Editor Joe Piehl
Joe Piehl

A TLT contributor since 2010, Joe is the Chicago Editor. Outside TLT, Joe keeps an eye out for awesome activities and he writes a travel blog: Joe the Explorer.

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