Chicagoans hope Obama Olympic bid will benefit workers

In a last minute decision President Barack Obama has decided to travel to Copenhagen later this week to support Chicago’s Olympic bid as host to the 2016 Summer Games. Obama will become the first U.S. president to lobby in person in front of the International Olympic Committee, which will make its decision Friday afternoon after a 100-plus vote by its members in a secret ballot.

Other cities in the running include Madrid, Rio De Janeiro and Tokyo. Each country is expected to deliver a 70-minute final presentation to IOC members. Many believe the IOC’s vote will be the aftermath of one of the toughest competitions in recent history of countries bidding to host the Games.

If Rio wins, which according to reports has a slight lead over Chicago, Brazil will become the first South American country to play host to the Games.

Obama initially said the current fight for health care reform in the U.S. was too critical for him to leave Washington. But after increasing pressure, Obama had a change of heart and many say his presence in Copenhagen could swing the vote toward Chicago’s selection.

Obama will join his wife Michelle, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Chicago is the hometown to the Obama family.

Many host cities in the past have benefited from heads of states making a pitch for their countries. Most recently they include London’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair for the 2012 Summer Games and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s push for Sochi’s selection for the 2014 Winter Games.

Despite the excitement shared by many in the Olympic sports world, local community organizations want city officials to be held accountable if the Games are chosen to be in Chicago.

Although much of organized labor in Chicago supports the bid especially when it comes to jobs creation, others want to ensure that those jobs are equally spread throughout the city particularly in the Black, Latino and other low-income communities.

Many agree that in preparing for the Games Chicago could potentially produce many new jobs, which are badly needed especially given the current economic climate facing the country. Yet those jobs must benefit working people including small businesses and not just the highly connected, the super wealthy or major corporations, critics charge.

More importantly the cost of the Games and the general financial infrastructure must not fall on the backs of working people, they add. Mayor Daley says this won’t happen.

Another concern is the amount of residential displacement and gentrification that could make the housing crisis in Chicago worse off than it already is in an era where home foreclosure rates continue to mount.

The amount of money being raised to support the Games could also be funneled toward improving schools and public education as well as revamping the public transit system, critics say.

Most agree the Olympics are a time where nations of the world come together to showcase an array of talent and sportsmanship highlighting the best of the best each country has to offer.

Chicagoans would most likely welcome such an international display of diverse cultures competing for the gold, silver and bronze medals. They just want to make sure the Mayor and others are held accountable so that all working people reap the long-term benefits of hosting such a rich and historic tradition of international solidarity.