Ueberroth no longer has role in Chicago 2016 bid
I found myself bemused this week when a Chicago radio station hyped an exclusive interview in which former U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth assessed the city's 2016 Olympic bid chances by saying, "You are the leader.''
My reaction owed to what I had been hearing since soon after Ueberroth stepped down as USOC chairman last October: that the man who ran the enormously successful 1984 Los Angeles Games was no longer in the loop with the Chicago bid team, even though a significant role in the bid was to be part of Ueberroth's portfolio after his term as chairman ended.
And Chicago 2016 Chairman Patrick Ryan confirmed my information when I asked him about Ueberroth during an interview this morning about the city's presentation to several dozen International Olympic Committee members next week in Lausanne, Switzerland.
My first question about Ueberroth was, "What role, if any, does Peter Ueberroth still have?'' Ryan answered that with a deft sidestep by noting that Ueberroth is honorary USOC chairman and "a friend of the bid.''
But when I asked next whether Ueberroth was still playing "a direct role in any way,'' Ryan did not equivocate. "No,'' Ryan said.
There was no need to ask why. I already knew these two strong-willed men, neither of whom minces words, had several disagreements over the previous year. I knew Chicago 2016 was not pleased when Ueberroth, in his final speech as chairman, had essentially told the IOC where to get off in the contentious revenue-sharing dispute with the USOC.
(Ueberroth was -- and still is -- right about that issue, as I made clear in a blog last fall. I can also understand why Chicago 2016 would have preferred a more politic approach to the issue, but Ueberroth was too angry over the repeated, ill-tempered criticism leveled at the USOC by IOC members Hein Verbruggen of the Netherlands and Denis Oswald of Switzerland to hold his tongue any longer.)
So what does the change in Ueberroth's status mean to Chicago's chances?
It may help, because some IOC members are narrow-minded enough to see Ueberroth only as an irritant, not as the man whose private financing plan for the 1984 Summer Games both assured the future of an IOC that had only nickels and dimes four years earlier and started a gold rush of cities wanting to host the Olympics. Were it not for such an attitude toward Ueberroth, he would have been -- and should have been -- made an IOC member long ago.
There is an irony to this as far as Chicago is concerned. Its Summer Games bid sagely emphasizes the financial possibilities of a Games in the U.S. -- specifically the Midwest. Those are possibilities that the Ueberroth model exposed by getting corporations to supply much of the revenue, goods and services needed to organize the 1984 Games.
When I asked Ryan whether he expected a lot of IOC questions next week about the Chicago bid's financial plans, he replied, "We will certainly highlight the marketing opportunity and the sponsorship opportunity that is presented by the Fortune 500 and international [corporate] headquarters concentration in Chicago and the Midwest.
"We believe that with Chicago and the Midwest we can demonstrate -- and I think we did to the EC [IOC Evaluation Commission] -- that there is a unique opportunity for sponsorship support that will be lasting and an opportunity for the Olympic movement to establish long-term relationships with this corporate world.''
With his direct answer to my question, Ryan also established that Chicago 2016 no longer has the relationship it once did with Ueberroth.
-- Philip Hersh
Photo: Peter Ueberroth on a balcony at the Chicago Hilton during a 2007 visit. Credit: Chuck Berman / Chicago Tribune