Now that the dust has settled, and Rio de Janeiro has won the perhaps-dubious honor of hosting the 2016 Olympic Games, the blame game has begun in earnest.
Was it Oprah’s fault? President Barack Obama’s fault? Stephanie Streeter’s fault?
Or was it the fault of the self-interested members of the International Olympic Committee, who have in the past been swayed by considerations other than those that theoretically govern their choice?
The United States last hosted the Summer Games during 1996 in Atlanta. With the rejection of New York’s half-hearted bid for the 2012 Games, followed by Chicago’s failure, it seems unlikely that this country will play host to the summer Olympics until 2024 at the earliest.
The metamorphosis of the Olympics from obscure track meet/ski race to an international media/marketing extravaganza took place in America, against the backdrop of the Cold War. The theme: clean-living, dedicated American amateurs triumphing in unequal combat against the state-supported professionals of the Soviet bloc.
And, often enough, our kids won, giving us iconic national heroes such as Joan Benoit, Mike Eruzione, Eric Heiden, Dorothy Hamill and scores of others.
Their success transformed the Olympics into a sports phenomenon that now rivals the NFL or the NBA, or even the World Cup. The quadrennial spectacles that have come to define the modern Olympics have been fueled and financed by American media, and American audiences.
But that era has come to an end.
Worldwide audiences are growing rapidly, and those audiences will gain relative importance as the years go by. During the last decades of the 20th century, the IOC was focused upon serving the United States, its most important market — but that’s no longer the case.
The coldly practical men and women who run the IOC are focused on reinforcing the global brand of the Olympics, not on pleasing Obama, Oprah or the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Rio made sense. It’s a world capital, and brings an entire continent with it.
No American bid could have succeeded against Rio. And it’s possible that no American bid can succeed until the rules that govern our bid are changed.
It’s no secret that the IOC has long been dissatisfied with revenue-sharing agreements with the USOC. Under the present deal, which will be renegotiated during 2013, the United States gets 20 percent of all sponsorship money and 12.75 percent of the TV money. The new deal will likely be much less favorable to the United States, and will put the USOC’s funding on a much less secure basis.
And that brings us back to the now-unequal playing field that defines the U.S. relationship with the Olympics.
The USOC must rely upon private funding and cannot seek government support. That creates the kind of culture we’ve seen here in Colorado Springs, where a cash-strapped organization with vast responsibilities must seek support from every possible source, even its equally cash-strapped host city.
And that also means that American cities seeking to host the games must do so on their own dime. Chicago wasn’t competing against Tokyo, Madrid and Rio, but against Japan, Spain and Brazil. Mayor Richard Daley and 47 Chicago aldermen might have guaranteed that they’d pay for any cost overruns, but they were holding a losing hand. Who you gonna call — da mayor, or the government of Brazil? It’s an unequal competition.
America can host the Olympics again, if the country so chooses. But to do so, we can no longer ask cities to compete with countries or pretend that the balance of world economic power has not changed since 1984 or 1996.
Otherwise, we’ll sit at home, glued to our TVs, and watch the Olympics in London, Rio and other great cities of the world.
Which, come to think of it, might not be so bad.