Could Indy, Chicago partner as Olympic hosts?

The Olympic Games concluded this weekend but the race for hosting the 2024 Olympics is in its final heat. Competing for Olympic host used to be a major source of pride and selection was a huge honor. In recent years, however, city excitement for becoming Olympic hosts has shifted substantially.

Nowadays hosting the Olympics is considered a huge financial burden that comes with building new stadiums and housing, which will likely become vacant or underused once the games conclude. This prospect has created backlash within cities attempting to bid for the Olympics. We witnessed this last year as the U.S. chose Boston to represent America. Boston later withdrew because of resistance from residents.

You cannot blame taxpayers for fighting against the huge financial expenditures that come with hosting the Olympics. In recent decades it’s become clear that the cost outweighs the benefits. London received $3.5 billion in revenues from their 2012 summer games but spent around $18 billion to host them. A recent study from the University of Oxford stated, “for a city and nation to decide to stage the Olympic Games is to decide to take on one of the most costly and financially most risky type of megaproject[s] that exists, something that many cities and nations have learned to their peril.”

It is clear that cities need a new formula for hosting the Olympics. What if we changed it? Instead of spending money on new stadiums and infrastructure that cannot maintain sustainable use, what if we spent money on infrastructure that would be used for years to come? Spend money to connect two cities that together could host the Olympics as a partnership. High-speed rail would create the fast connection needed to make this a viable option.

Indianapolis and Chicago appear to be a perfect partnership for this endeavor. Chicago is one of the largest cities in the U.S., bringing multiple sport venues and lodging options. Indianapolis regularly hosts one of the largest sporting events in the world (the Indianapolis 500), major NCAA tournaments and recently expanded infrastructure to host the Superbowl. The capacity of these two cities could accommodate the Olympics; and financial expenditures could focus on connecting the cities with high-speed rail, creating a transportation system that moves Olympians and attendees from one downtown to the next in less than an hour.

The cost of high-speed rail is of course not cheap. Some estimates coming from high-speed rail projects in California are $82 million per mile. However, some of this cost is associated with cutting through mountains, which in the Midwest is not an issue. With that price tag, creating a train line between Indianapolis and Chicago would cost about $15 billion. However, the economic opportunities generated from connecting these two cities would be significant, continuing long after the excitement of hosting the Olympics has faded.

Indianapolis may never be a solo Olympic host. However, if we change the paradigm for shouldering the financial burden and funnel resources into connecting cities instead of building unsustainable infrastructure, Indianapolis would be an extremely attractive partner. This approach would not only bring pride and excitement back to hosting the Olympic Games but also economic prosperity and opportunity.

Englum is the Policy Manager at Rebuild by Design. She was born and raised a Hoosier. She holds an MA in Global Environmental Politics from American University and a BS in Public Affairs from Indiana University.


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