Chicago, city of migrants bids for Olympics

Bidding to host the Olympics is becoming an increasingly fine and demanding art so it makes sense that the person who fronts your effort should be someone who can get things done. Chicago could not have wished for a better figurehead than Mayor Richard M. Daley who is in Athens to promote the city’s bid. He has just completed his 19th year as mayor, having been re-elected for the fifth time last year. His father, Richard J. Daley, was Chicago mayor for 21 years. Applicant cities usually rely on a combination of impressive facts and figures as well as ambitious plans for infrastructure and stadiums. Chicago has all that but is also drawing on the diversity and spirit of its people to convince the world that it is capable of hosting the biggest show on earth. Immigrants «It’s the city of immigrants: Our past, our present and our future,» Daley tells Kathimerini English Edition. «We have a very strong immigrant community. Even today we welcome immigrants into our city. That’s our present and future. We’ll always be welcoming immigrants from all walks of life to Chicago. That is a great strength.» Chicago can count 26 ethnic groups, each with a population of at least 25,000 people, among the city’s population of almost 3 million. «We recently held the world boxing championships and you had a group of Mongolians celebrating their boxers, you had Iranians, Syrians, Greeks, Irish, Mexicans, Chinese, so everybody was represented there. That’s unique,» says Daley. «That you really have a cross section of people in the audience celebrating the Olympic movement and where they come from, to me that’s unique.» Daley says the city is making conscious efforts to embrace its multiethnicity. «We just hosted this year the conference of North African and Middle Eastern mayors. It was the first time in history that Arab mayors had been invited to the United States. We’re really trying to showcase that we are a global city. We are one of the few cities teaching Chinese, Arabic, Russian and other languages. Languages are very important for global cities, especially in public education.» Representatives of seven hopeful cities have arrived in Athens to use all their powers of persuasion to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that they should have the right to host the 2016 Games. The IOC members are in town for SportAccord, the world’s largest sporting convention, and the action promises to be furious. Chicago has chosen the slogan «Stir the soul» to accompany its campaign and Daley believes that his city is ready to stimulate the emotions of athletes and visitors. «Every city has to have a soul. Chicago has a soul, a heartbeat, just like Athens. You get here and you can feel it. It just comes from the people.» Some meticulous planning has also gone into Chicago’s bid. It has put forward an innovative idea to cluster the venues in four areas near the city center, taking advantage of the lakefront, parks and wide boulevards. This means that the athletes will be housed in an Olympic Village right at the heart of the action rather than on the fringes. Nine in 10 of them will be able to reach their venues within 15 minutes, according to the bid committee’s calculations. Daley says Chicago made a conscious decision to take advantage of its existing infrastructure. «I think it gets complicated otherwise and the costs go up the further out you go. «From the core of the city you have good public transportation, airports and rail, so people can really come in to the city instead of using cars. It also gives the athletes an appreciation of the city. They will feel they are part of the city.» Chicago also hopes to benefit from the fact that it already has most of the stadiums it needs for the Games. In fact, 22 out of the 27 venues have either already been built or will be temporary. This is one of the reasons that Daley laughs off suggestions that hosting the Olympics could cost Chicago as much as $5 billion (3.2 billion euros). «I don’t think it’s going to be that much. I don’t know where they get these figures from,» he says. «Trying to start building everything from the beginning, now that’s different. But we don’t have to do those things, we have most of the stadiums already.» Legacy So what will be the legacy of the Olympics should they be held in Chicago? Daley believes that the atmosphere that would be created in the city would be priceless. «The legacy will be one for the athletes, the Olympians. We hope that we will provide a legacy to do with how important the Olympics are, setting aside global politics and politics within each country. «The legacy will complement the Olympic movement and be about the athletes, regardless of political affiliations and what’s happening in the world. This will be Chicago’s legacy.» There is no doubt that Chicago is passionate about sports. Eight million tickets are sold for sporting events in the city each year. But Daley is hoping that should Chicago come out on top in the IOC’s final vote on October 2 next year, the arrival of the Olympics in his city will be about much more than just sports. «Younger people are very excited about the Olympic movement. They don’t see the world as maybe we are used to seeing it,» he says. «They see it differently and the Olympics give them an opportunity to express themselves. It will also be an opportunity to meet Americans and showcase the east, the west, the north, the south and the midwest of America.» Chicago faces a tough challenge with competition from Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Prague, Doha and Baku but, after a lifetime in politics, Daley is ready for the obstacles ahead. «It’s a challenge because you’re in tough competition. You have historic cities, new cities so there’s competition but it’s worth it.» [email protected]