Game Theory.Posted: October 3, 2009
In a city divided pro and con on whether we wanted the 2016 Olympics (disruption and financial ruin were two of the objections), I was, on balance, pro. And I believed that if Chicago won the games, many who had been on the con side would catch Olympic fever in short order. There were probably Chicagoans who objected to our World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 for some of the same reasons, but most of them came around.
So when Chicago got cut from the get-go in yesterday’s International Olympic Committee vote, I felt bitter. I felt, “Jeez, okay, you can’t win them all, but getting eliminated in the first round?!??” In a city that has learned to associate sports with disappointment, this felt not just like not-winning but like a real kick in the teeth. But a friend gave me a “game theory” explanation of the process that helped raise my civic self-esteem a bit.
It’s not that the members of the IOC regarded Chicago as the most laughable choice. In fact, very much the opposite. They regarded Chicago as the most serious threat to a Rio victory. If you were an IOC voting member who preferred Rio over Chicago, therefore, it was incumbent on you to cast your vote in the first round for any city but Chicago. If it were to come down to two cities left in contention, Chicago versus Rio, you, the voting IOC member, might not know how your fellow voters would go. So, even if out of the four cities in the first round Chicago was a close second choice for you, but Rio was your first choice, you needed to cast your vote for one of the weaker cities (Madrid or Tokyo) to keep them in the race. You would know that Rio would certainly beat either of those in the later rounds, but a Chicago that was still in the hunt in the later rounds might end up beating Rio. Essentially, the voting members of the IOC behaved like (sneaky, but rational) contestants on The Weakest Link or Survivor, or like Republicans who cross party lines to vote in Democratic primaries in order to boost a Democrat they think their candidate can beat. They voted not to remove the true weakest link, but to remove (in their view) the strongest competitor.
So it wasn’t quite the diss that it felt like. In fact, it was evidence of a grudging respect. That’s what I’m telling myself this morning. And yes, I think I actually believe it.