Friday, October 02, 2009

Reflections of a Chicago 2016 volunteer

I've loved the Olympics ever since I was a kid. I had a knit cap with the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games logo, and I remember watching the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, especially a closing montage set to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." My grandfather lived in LA at the time, and he went to the Olympics and brought me my first Olympic pins and flags and other memorabilia. I've wanted to attend an Olympics ever since. But they've always seemed so geographically and economically out of reach. Until I heard that Chicago was a candidate city for the 2016 Summer Games. A chance to have the Olympics in my metropolitan backyard!

So over the last year or so, I've been an occasional volunteer for the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid. My son and I held up signs and flags in the rain during an IOC evaluation visit and handed out wristbands at pro soccer games. I distributed literature and helped out with some demos of Olympic and Paralympic sports at events. I've been an enthusiastic backer of the bid, even though I'm fully aware of the financial and infrastructure challenges they would likely bring to the region. My sense was that they'd be a mixed bag of pros and cons, but on the whole I felt like it would be a net benefit to the Chicagoland area. I liked volunteering for the 2016 bid in that it got me outside of my usual circles and activities and let me be part of a larger community with a common vision and interest.

Like many Chicagoans, I was disappointed with the news this morning that Chicago was eliminated in the first round of voting. But that's okay - Chicagoans are used to disappointment, as any Cubs fan will say. On the other hand, I'm thrilled for Rio de Janeiro and for what the decision represents. It's the first time the Olympics will be held in South America. Brazil was the only country of the top ten global economies never to have hosted a Games. This selection seems to be another indicator of the spotlight shifting away from the U.S. and toward the global south. North Americans should get used to this shift. The future of international business, geopolitics and the church is increasingly globalizing. The global south, the BRIC countries, the emerging economies of the world are no longer just potential consumers of Western goods or the objects of North American missionaries; they are subjects in their own right and mutual partners in global commerce and mission.

As I wrote in a CT column last year, I love the Olympics for its peaceful international celebration and cooperation, which seems to me a sign of the kingdom of God. Of course, the actual preparations for the Games are fraught with potential problems and injustices, such as the displacement of the poor. Julie Clawson, author of our new book Everyday Justice, blogged a while ago that Chicago may have been less problematic than the other candidate cities and that death squads in Rio may be used to clear out unwanted populations. Here's to hoping that Rio will take the 2016 Games as an opportunity to protect its people and to develop a more just society.

And in the meantime, I will recalibrate my own hopes of seeing an Olympics in person someday. Now Vancouver 2010 feels a little closer and doable than London 2012 or Sochi 2014, but still much more difficult to get to than a Chicago Olympics would have been. My wife, who works with Brazilian publishers, would love to go to Rio 2016. We can always dream, but if not, we'll at least get to watch the Games on TV.

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