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Afternoon Shift

The business and politics behind the Olympics

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(WBEZ/Niala Boodhoo)


Olympics is still a bit of a dirty word in Chicago—many still feel the sting of a failed bid to host the 2016 games. But, it turns out, the Olympics’ taint, especially as it relates to its governing body, the International Olympic Committee, reeks ‘round the world. The IOC describes itself as the “supreme authority of the Olympic movement” and a catalyst for collaboration between all parties of the Olympic family, i.e., national committees, athletes, broadcast partners, sponsors and even the U.N. And like most families, it’s had its fair share of drama over the years; especially when it comes to its domineering American cousin, the U.S. Olympic Committee.


A seven-year battle between the IOC and the USOC ended this spring when the two agreed on a new long term revenue-sharing deal. Many felt that the U.S.’s slice of the Olympic pie was too big. And as a result, many believed, the IOC kept its fat American cousin from coming back for seconds by blocking any and all U.S. cities—namely New York in 2012 and Chicago in 2016—from hosting the games. The new deal is indeed a diet for the USOC; it reduces the U.S. share of broadcasting rights and halves the American share of the IOC’s biggest sponsorship deal.

But, says the Nation’s Dave Zirin, the IOC did Chicago a favor. As President Obama headed to Copenhagen to help make Chicago’s case before the committee in 2009, Zirin scrawled a warning to the president and Chicago.

To greater or lesser degrees, the Olympics bring gentrification, graft and police violence wherever they nest. Even without the Olympic Games, Chicago has been ground zero in the past decade for the destruction of public housing, political corruption raised to an art form, and police violence. Bringing the Olympics to this town would be like sending a gift basket filled with bottles of Jim Beam to the Betty Ford Clinic: over-consumption followed by disaster.

Many saw Obama’s trip to Copenhagen alongside longtime Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley (then enjoying a 35 percent approval rating) as a tip of the hat to the Gipper. Ronald Reagan opened the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, which were the first privately-funded games—very Reaganomic. Zirin does not consider the ’84 games a success; in fact, he connects the 1992 L.A. riots to the ’84 games. 

Whereas Michael Payne, the former and first-ever IOC marketing and broadcast rights director, marks the ’84 Olympics as a turning point for the games—that the president of the L.A. committee Peter Uebberoth ushered the Olympics into the modern era by creating a private partnership funding mechanism for the near-bankrupt Olympic movement.

Zirin and Payne shared their views on Afternoon Shift as part of an hour-long look at the business and politics behind the games. Host Steve Edwards was also joined by ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson, U.K.-based sports marketing whiz Simon Chadwick and WBEZ's very own Niala Boodhoo, who is in London for the festivities.

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