Dispatch September 2009

The Host with the Most

Ignore the odds-makers. Forget the vote. Who should host the Olympics?


On Friday, the world will learn the host of the 2016 Olympics. All week the four city finalists—Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo – have razzle-dazzled the Olympics committee in Copenhagen with a flurry of international celebrities, elaborate presentations and extravagant guarantees. For weeks odds-makers favored Rio de Janeiro to become the first South American city to ever host the Olympics. But Chicago's hopes got a shot of audacity when Barack Obama announced he would be the first president in U.S. history to personally attend the vote the Olympics vote. That guarantee has apparently moved the Second City into a dead heat for first place.

But odds schmodds. Rather than read the tea leaves to divine who would win, we wanted to decide for ourselves who should win. So we compared the four cities across nine categories, from history to transportation to weather, with inspiration from the International Olympic Committee’s own criteria. And (then with Olympic-sized presumptuousness) we picked our own winners in all nine categories. Who gets our gold? Let’s compare:

how the olympic host cities stack up - chart

The final tally goes like this. Gold to Rio (3.5); Silver to Chicago (2.5); Bronze to Tokyo (1.5) and Madrid (1.5). But of course, it would be foolish to weigh each of these categories evenly. A tip-top transportation plan beats a forehead-slapping slogan. If air quality were everything, Beijing would have been laughed out of the first round, and Mogadishu might be considered a threat to host in 2024.

Madrid and Tokyo suffer from slightly opposite problems. Spain’s capitol sizzles like a paella stove during the summer and Tokyo’s has an epic congestion problem even without playing host to the world’s biggest party. Rio is rightly the aesthetic choice, and the argument for South America is compelling, but air quality, transportation and cost will weigh on the other side of the scale for this emotional pick.

Then there’s Chicago. Two years ago, the city was considered an also-ran in the Olympics sweepstakes. After all, it’s neither the official capitol of its country (like Madrid, Tokyo) or its international symbol (like Rio de Janeiro). Even its nickname “The Second City” is diminutive. But judging the above chart from the perspective of (mostly unbiased) Americans, nothing about the Chicago plan looks like a red flag. As we approach deadline Friday, the wind seems to be firmly at Chicago’s back.

—Jenny Merkin and Clement Tan

Jenny Merkin and Clement Tan are Atlantic interns.
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