03 October 2009

Chicago, or Rio

I did some thought on the prospect of having the Olympics in what appears to be my favorite town in the world (thus far). I decided first off that Rio was a good idea as any. It keeps it in our time zone, so there's none of that annoying "I know who wins this already" stuff that happened from Beijing, Athens, and Sydney (I don't care much about the winter Olympic games, typical American on that front). And none of that annoying, "live" at 3 am watching the Gold medal Basketball game (instant classic). It's also a good historical story line, given that South America hasn't hosted the Olympics. Now we're left with Egypt or South Africa coming up with a host plan at some point in the future and that will take care of the continental program.

So getting that mild affront to the faded specter of nationalism or regionalism that I once was capable of, if never that demonstrative of, out of the way, we're left with the amusing detracting points for why Obama went or why this wasn't a good idea. For instance, the Olympic cities often end up in debt. This is because the IOC operates the same way any sporting event owner does: they have a monopoly and hold their product out as a ransom. Cities overpay to have the luxury of being able to say "we have a pro sports team" or "we hosted the Olympics". Those are nice things for civic pride. But they're terrible economically. There is no predictable economic benefit for a developed city infrastructure to invest hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in sporting event complexes and stadiums, much less for the Olympics the accompanying housing developments, mass transit (if they don't already have a good one), and so on. Somehow or other this fact is lost on voters and city residents. There is a predictable boon for the monopoly sport owner who has to invest very little of their own money on either the development of athletes to participate or the venues in which they would do so. If a city was already growing and developing, it's probably okay for it to invest some money in sunk costs of athletic venues and high end condos. But this is not true of Chicago.

Next, there is a predictable bias inherent in the voting of the IOC. This can be one of the advantages of their system over the team owner in sports leagues. The team owner can hold hostage one city over another. The IOC uses a voting process and screens out multiple candidates. But as 538 analysis shows here, the voting process is arbitrarily skewed. Somehow that hasn't resulted in any African host cities. It has resulted in a massive quantity of European host cities and a massive under representation of Asian ones (with North America also being underrepresented, largely because of money and participation/success per capita). Most of the suggestions listed at the bottom of that article would do well to fix their system without re-allocating the number of votes involved. I particularly like the instant run-off system for this with ranked votes (even though I don't consider it a great idea for political elections). It works quite well with sporting considerations, such as Hall of Fame type voting where there are few adverse public consequences.

So far as Obama going? I think this was a lose-lose proposition. First off, it wasn't like he campaigned promising to deliver the games to Chicago in 2016 anyway, but he would be lying if he said he wasn't interested in the idea and had felt some obligation (since it's his home town and state), to see that idea supported. So what happens if he doesn't go? The same people annoyed that he does go would get annoyed and make their adverse statements. What happens now that he does go and they lose the vote? Well even Obama doesn't have the global pull at the IOC needed to arrange a US victory. And so I don't see that he deserves some credit for the defeat. It was after all a surprise to most observers that Chicago lost out on the first ballot (I've seen considerable support for a theory that Rio and Madrid supporters lobbied against Chicago for example, which would tend to weight against it). This is not a significant foreign policy negotiation, nor some win-win possibility that game theory would provide for in such negotiations. Game theory postulates that there are positive sum games and that those would be the ideal in business or foreign policies. A situation like this is always a zero sum, someone has to lose. It may as well be us if not Brazil. Which leaves the prospect that he goes, and then we get the games over the objections of Rio de Janeiro supporters. I'm not sure that Obama wins points from that prospect either (at least not in the short term, in the long term there's a political benefit for the US hosting the Olympics, consider all the talking point mileage for Romney and his involvement in 2002 with Salt Lake City). Basically what that comes down to is that he should have gone to show support for his home town and home country and accepted the decisions as made and then we can all move on to something important and completely different. There is plenty of room to criticize, but taking this sort of profound glee in seeing Obama somehow suffering a "personal defeat", and parsing out the fact that Chicago is in fact an American city, meaning by that logic this would be a NATIONAL defeat, is idiotic at best.

Update: This is taking it a bit far, cheering at the announcement?
Post a Comment