I spent much of Friday morning like I spend many mornings, doing a bit of work, reading news on the internet and watching SportsCenter on ESPN. The buzz of the day was all about the 2016 Summer Olympics, mostly about Chicago’s bid to host the games. Listening to the broadcasters or reading the US-based media (and random friends of mine who were blogging and tweeting about it) you’d think that Chicago was a shoo-in to win, or at least to represent well.
And then, at 11:10am EDT, reality set in. The results of the first round of balloting were announced by IOC President Rogge and Chicago was out. Yes, the selection of a host city is a terribly political process. How else do you explain that the President of the United States made a presentation and appeal to the IOC regarding the bid? And the politics were heard loud and clear. The rest of the world doesn’t really like the USA right now. Chicago finished in “fourth place of the four finalists,” according to the AP wire report. In other words they lost. Badly.
During the presentation to the IOC the Chicago Bid Committee was asked a number of things. Among them, how the United States would deal with the fact that the Olympics inherently involve thousands of foreign visitors entering the country and that the current policies aren’t particularly friendly towards such visits. The fact that such a question even needed to be asked is a rather sad commentary on just how far the country has fallen in the eyes of the world. But even worse was the answer.
This was the perfect opportunity to acknowledge that there is a problem and to outline a path over which it would be fixed. Doing things like rescinding the $10 ETSA fee that was recently announced and making it less onerous and expensive for visitors to apply for and receive tourist visas would be a great start. Increasing staffing at international airport clearance centers and killing the scheme that requires all visitors to be photographed and fingerprinted – just like suspected criminals when they are booked – would be a great step forward, too. But no, nothing even close to that came out.
Instead the Bid Committee replied that they would work with the US Federal Government to establish a new organization dedicated to facilitating the process for Olympic visitors. More layers of bureaucracy. More reams of paperwork. More red tape. And the same miserable, xenophobic and unfriendly policies.
Fortunately, the IOC and the international community saw through the charade and bounced Chicago from contention in the first round of voting. Sure, the pundits and the folks gathered on Daly Plaza in Chicago were stunned. But it makes a lot of sense in the real world. No one likes arrogance, a bully or an asshole, and the United States embodies all of those these days on the international stage, especially when it comes to opening borders. And that is a big part of what the Olympics are all about.
Congrats to Rio! Looking forward to the first South American-hosted Olympics.
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