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Obama magic offers Chicago hope

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Gordon Farquhar | 15:19 UK time, Monday, 28 September 2009

Barack Obama's change of heart about backing the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid in person in Copenhagen this week suggests not only how close this race is but how nervous the city is about its chances.

Just a few days after declaring that tackling his healthcare reform agenda had to take priority, the president seems to have found some space in his diary.

He will be in good company - and ought to be able to discuss pressing global issues over smorgasbord with the King of Spain Juan Carlos, the President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and quite probably, the new Prime Minister of Japan, Yukio Hatoyama, or Japanese royals Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako.

Long, long gone, it seems, are the days when the most exciting member of a bid team would be a grey-haired Greco-Roman wrestling silver medallist from the 1950s.

President Barack Obama uses a light saber against Olympic fencer Tim Morehouse
Barack Obama promotes Chicago's bid alongside Olympic fencer Tim Morehouse

These days, after Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin's interventions for London and Sochi respectively at vote time, the pre-occupation is making sure the political premier heads a glittering list of sporting stars, personalities, and celebrities right out of the A-list.

There is no doubt London benefited from the Blair-factor in Singapore four years ago, and the bid team used him to good effect: a series of fairly low key meetings in his hotel room, one on one with a few of the 'target votes'.

IOC members might not appreciate being thought of as targets on bits of paper, but these bids are now being run like election campaigns, by hard-nosed political strategists working out tactics for grabbing the second or even third preference votes that will be crucial to the chances of any of the bidders.

There was already enough heat in this campaign, and Mr Obama's presence raises the temperature to flat-roast.

Strict IOC rules dictate the boundaries of what is permitted, and transgressing them could be fatal.

Expenses-paid trips to bid cities for voting members with freebies ranging from the odd case of wine to dental work to scholarships for offspring, were banned after the Salt Lake city "votes for gifts" scandal.

It is all strictly above board now, absolutely no denigrating your opponents.
However, one of the unexpected consequences of the ban on members' visits seems to be that if you cannot go to the city, the city now comes to you, with half the nation's politicians, sports stars and famous alumni in tow.

To be honest, I fear it is becoming a bit of a circus, and the IOC will be a little uneasy about the 'sideshow' detracting from the serious business of the vote itself.
I can understand Michael Jordan being part of Chicago's team, but Oprah Winfrey?
Mind you, Rio, who have emerged as the favourites, will play the Pele card, and Tokyo and Madrid will not be shy with their celebrities either.

The consensus is that the Brazilian city just edged the technical part of the bid process, and Rio has a strong story to tell of the regenerative power of the games in a rapidly developing city and national economy.

Chicago, by the analysis of those experts who live and breathe every detail of these campaigns, is still in with more than a puncher's chance, however, and in Mr Obama they have the ultimate heavyweight.

It should be fun.....


  • Comment number 1.

    Isn't Oprah Winfrey from Chicago?

  • Comment number 2.

    That picture of Barack Obama with a lightsabre made me lol!

  • Comment number 3.

    The bidding process for the olympics games have turned into an absolute farce ever since Tony Blair threw the rule book out of the window by having one to one private "conversations" with "undecided" members of the IOC in 2005!

    It now seems totally transparent that if heads of state and A Listers do not pander to the IOCs ego by being present and pretending to like sport, the bidding city will be tossed aside without so much as passing nod.


    Olympic games deserve better....

  • Comment number 4.

    What makes you say that Rio is now the bid favourite? Certainly, the betting markets don´t agree.
    Chicago (at about 11/10 on) is currently viewed as being about three times more likely to win than Rio (11/5).
    Tokyo and Madrid are much further off the pace at 9/1 and 12/1 respectively.
    Could this be the Obama effect?

  • Comment number 5.

    "Isn't Oprah Winfrey from Chicago"?

    No, that's Al Capone and Billy Flynn.

  • Comment number 6.

    Re 4 limbojimbo

    The betting markets reflect where the betting money is, not where opinions are leaning within IOC circles. Not only are there the IOC whisperers, but the people of Chicago are not enthusiastic regarding the Olympics.

    I would say right now it is neck and neck between Chicago and Rio DJ.

    Re 3 The bidding process for the games is certainly better than it used to be, which this blog makes abundantly clear. Better to be won over by visits from 'celebrities and politicians' than bribes.
    The bidding process is far from perfect, but it is more transparent than previous games.

  • Comment number 7.

    Bringing celebrities and Olympians is President Obama's way of thanking Illinois, for us voting him in as Senator years ago. It is a sign of respect and honor, as well as a show of effort and support. This is particularily special for Illinois. Who knew that a little-known Senator from Illinois would become President of the USA!?!
    Love the Star Wars pic! :)

  • Comment number 8.

    Don't know about anyone else, but I'm not too bothered where it goes.

    2012 is in London, so we're on about a tournament which is going to take place in 9 years time!

    It would probably be a good thing if it went to the yanks. Been a while since they hosted a major international event (I'm not trying to put them down, just saying they haven't hosted one in a while)

  • Comment number 9.

    I personally think that it would only be right for Rio to be given the right to host these games. It is amazing that South America has never hosted the games, and Rio really is a testament to a people in love with all sport, and to the spirit of the games and the re-invigoration of a society.

  • Comment number 10.

    No8 monkeyCAYMAN: How do you get to the thinking that it has been a while since the US has hosted a major international event? If they are awarded the 2016 Games that will be their 3rd summer games in 32 years (that is 3 out of 9 Olympics), not to mention 2 winter games since 1980! As well as the no2 sports event, the 1994 football World Cup.
    Japan last had a summer games in 1964, a winter games in 1998 and the football in 2002. Spain have since 1980 only had the 1982 football and 1992 summer olympics. And, although Brazil will have the 2014 World Cup, as post no9 says, the entire continent of South America has never ever had an Olympics! So how it is America's 'turn', I have no idea! Not for a long time to come!

  • Comment number 11.

    This million dollar trip had better be paid by the Chicago Olympic Committee or Obama's reelection committee's slush fund because it has nothing to do with the Presidency, and the American people should not be paying for this publicity stunt by both Obama and his wife.

  • Comment number 12.

    You should have also taken note of all the Chicago citizens who have actually been campaigning for Rio to get the games. One of the local TV news stations in Chicago reported the "Pro Rio" demonstrations, and was subsequently ordered by the State Government to not report the story again for fear that it would damage Chicago's chances! Free speech indeed!

    I'm not surprised Chicago decided to bring out the big guns to campaign for their bid. Let's face it, they're going to need it especially considering a teenager was brutally murdered in Chicago due to gang warfare last week.

  • Comment number 13.

    As someone born and raised in Rio, I say:


    One thing that people commenting about the dispute in Europe or US don't know or pretend not to know (in Brazil this is brought up in any serious discussion on the matter) is that corruption runs rampant in any event such as these in Brazil, with every single one of them going way overbudget, and the government being forced to pay for it, and there is not a single exception to it.

    The 2014 World Cup is already with an estimated budget 9 times bigger than it was originally intended, and there's still 5 years to the tournament, BTW.

    Rio is by far the less prepared of those to host the games, and to chose it is a guarantee of disaster. And I live there, so I know what I'm talking about.

    And #12: one teenager was brutally murdered last week? That's terrible, but this kind of thing happens in Rio literally every single day.

  • Comment number 14.

    I believe you when you say corruption runs rampant in events like this in Brazil. Since you were born and raised in Rio I take your workd for that and that teenagers are murdered in Rio literally every day. Now as someone who was born and raised in the south side of Chicago, believe me when I tell you that the corruption in that city for this kind of an event would at least equal that of Rio. You not only have the corrupt politicians, you have organized crime there also. I went to high school in the same neighborhood where that teenager was clubbed to death by other teenagers. I graduated in 1972 and that area was bad then. it had the highest murder rate for the entire city back then and a bad gang problem then. That seems to have gotten worse now. So I join you in saying GO MADRID! GO TOKYO!

  • Comment number 15.

    #14: I believe you too. And yeah, teenagers and people in general are being killed in absurd numbers, even cops (around 30 are killed each year).

    Mind you, security for big events like this in Rio usually works pretty well, the city gets cleaner, homeless people are taken from the streets, there are more police and military patroling, and the events happen without big incidents. Afterwards, things return to normal.

  • Comment number 16.

    #3 cry me a river

  • Comment number 17.

    # 16 be my guest

  • Comment number 18.

    People's geography seems have deteriorated over the years.
    Firstly, Madrid's chances are very bleak after London (Europe) and so is Tokyo's after Beijing (Asia). That leaves Chicago - first timer and Rio.
    Rio will be interesting as it will be South America's first Olympic location. But Brazil has security and social difference issues - the country has only recently began to get worlwide recognition,because of its OIL money. Chicago maybe the better & safer choice. Tokyo may have stood a better choice had the previous government not chosen such a weak slogan "Uniting Our Worlds" - how many world do you need to unite in the first place??? The new prime minister should just stress on " Clean Air Olympic Games!" and perhaps most African and still less developed countries may yet vote for Tokyo.

  • Comment number 19.

    #13 - I think you'll find the murder rate in Chicago i ssomewhat similar to Rio.

    South America does need an Olympic Games and with 2016 coming soon after the World Cup it would mean that the stadia and facilities used for that would not be wasted although tweaking the designs to put in running tracks may be difficult.

    But yes the USA and Europe will have had tehir fair share of summer games by the time this comes around

  • Comment number 20.

    jsadighi, I know you might not like Chicago for whatever reason but lying or telling half truths to justify your dislike is pathetic.
    First of all, most of the residents in Chicago do want the games and there are no "Pro Rio" demonstrations. What you speak of is a website and the state government did not order Fox news to stop reporting on it. Fox news stopped reporting on the site because it came to realize the site had no credibility, no one knew who created the website and said they traced it back to Rio. Finally, I'm sorry that kid lost his life on the far southside of the city but what does that have to do with the Olympics? Didn't some young actor get stabbed to death in London several months ago? Does that mean London shouldn't be hosting the Olympics in 2012?

  • Comment number 21.

    #19, The murder rate in Chicago is nowhere near that of Rio. Chicago averages 500 murders a year and Rio averages 2,700. Although Rio is a little over twice the size of Chicago, it's muder rate is still way higher.

  • Comment number 22.

    correction: its muder rate is still way higher.

  • Comment number 23.

    leader1111, what publicity stunt do you speak of? Representing your city and counrty has everything to do with the presidency. Since when was it a publicity stunt for a president to support his country?

  • Comment number 24.

    To those who question why Oprah is attending -- yes, she is a Chicagoan. Her condo is up on North Michigan Avenue and her Harpo Studio, where she films her show, is in the South Loop area. She started as a reporter for a local TV station here years ago.

  • Comment number 25.

    #19: There's only one stadium in Rio used for the WC, Maracanã, which can only host football games. All the others either have to be built, reformed, or at least done some adjustment, including the ones used in the Pan American games, which ended up costing 9 TIMES more than it was originaly intended.

    And Chicago will (presumedly) use only private money for the games, whereas Rio will necessarily use tens of billions of dollars of public money, and the 2014 WC will cost tens of billions of dollars of public money as well. I am already being robbed and I don't want to be robbed again.

  • Comment number 26.

    Oh, and about Obama: doesn't the fact that he's going in person, which he wasn't going to do at first, might indicate exactly the opposite the blogger is suggesting? By that I meant that he knows Chicago will win, and wouldn't go there if there was any risk to his reputation?

  • Comment number 27.

    Its come down to Chicago and Rio without doubt, I am surprised that the Madrid bid got the green light with the 2012 olympics being held in London , monies better spent elsewhere for the Spainish economy.

    Rio would be a great choice but there no doubt that the crime levels with affect the judgement of the IOC members. Barrack Obama will be a massive boost to Chicago, but I say it should be RIO 2016

    By then the World Cup 2014 will had been and past and the country will have more experince of handling a big sporting event and dealing with Crime, Infastruture and Security issues.

    Its a bid not just for Brazil but a big part of the world thats never had the Olympic and that night just swing it for Rio by a few votes,


    If Crime is the issue for RIo than it never stopped FIFA awarding them the 2014 World cup - did it?

  • Comment number 28.

    No offence but I had to laugh a bit about the writter's question concerning Oprah Winfrey. I think the questions arises because of cultural differences. Oprah is, with the exception of the president, perhaps the best known living person Americans strongly associate with Chicago. Her entire national TV career has taken place from Chicago and her studios are in the middle of the city. But I am sure these fact that most average people outside of America wouldnt know so perhaps the writer has a point. Either way I am glad to see Obama going to Chicago and he might make a big difference but I have to admit I like the idea of the games in Rio!


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