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The race for 2016 kicks on

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Mihir Bose | 19:02 UK time, Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The race for the city that will host the Summer Games after London, in 2016, raises novel problems for the Olympic movement.

It could mean the Olympics going to parts of the world it has never gone before, or it could also mean a change in the Olympic movement's relationship with America.

Although the final decision will not be taken until October 2009, the race for the 2016 Games has now started with the short-list of five cities decided by the IOC Executive board meeting in Athens on Wednesday.

That two of the seven cities, Baku (Azerbaijan) and Prague (Czech Republic), did not make the cut is no surprise.

However the choice of Rio and the rejection of Doha came after much debate within the International Olympic Committee as to whether the short-list would be made up of five cities, as has been the norm for recent bids for Summer Games.

Chicago, Tokyo and Madrid were always going to make the short-list, but it was not certain whether Rio or Doha would also be chosen.

Brazilian delegates celebrate during the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announcement of which cities will move to the final round of bidding for the 2016 Summer Games

Although the 1968 Olympic Games were held in Mexico, the IOC is very aware that they have never held the Games in Latin America and, just as the Games are going to China for the first time, they must go to that continent at some time.

Rio has bid before, against London in 2012, but failed to make the short-list.

This time Rio has made a strong bid, but the problems for the Brazilian city are two fold.

Firstly, if the Olympics go there in 2016 it will mean Rio will host the Games only two years after the World Cup.

Brazil may be one of the rising economic powers, not quite China or even India, though not too far behind, but there is doubt whether there is enough money for two such events over such a short period of time.

Secondly, while Rio held a largely successful Pan American Games, like the Olympics a multi-sports event, there are concerns about security in Rio not dissimilar to the issues faced in South Africa by the World Cup organizers; this worries many IOC members.

Doha presented a different set of problems.

Its technical bid, I am told, was excellent, but Doha has a very small population of little more than a million while, furthermore, it planned to host the Games in October.

This would have meant clashes with other events such as the Champions League in Europe and the NFL in America.

Moreover, the IOC has long thought that a city must be of a certain size to host the Games and, while Doha promised to ferry people from round the Arab countries in a celebration of peace, the idea has not struck some in the IOC as practical.

However, Doha's ace was that its bid represented the whole of the Arab world.

The IOC is aware that the Games will have to go to the Arab world at some stage and not putting it on the short-list could have sent the wrong message to the Muslim world.

There is little doubt that the debate about the exclusion of Doha from the short-list was the most intense on the IOC Executive Board.

Doha's supporters will be angry that while, like Rio, they held a regional games (the Asian Games), this was not considered good enough.

As for the top three of Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo, their bids are seen as strong and I am told that Tokyo, which hosted the Games in 1964, scored heavily technically.

Madrid came within an ace of winning 2012 in Singapore, and indeed many insiders on the London team feel that had Madrid, not Paris, got to the final round it would have beaten London.

Former President Juan Antonio Samaranch worked hard for Madrid last time and will see Madrid getting the 2016 Games as his final act in the movement.

For their part, Chicago presents the unresolved American money problem - the economic advantage the American Olympic movement has had since the Americans rescued the Olympics back in the 1980s.

At that time, American TV rights and sponsorship brought money to a movement which looked as if it would collapse following the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

The deal the Americans struck gave them a slice of the cake before the rest of the world got their share; they receive 13% of the US TV rights and 20% of the IOC Top sponsorship.

Only afterwards do the rest of the Olympic movement gets their share and, as the Olympics has become less dependent on America over the years, this has bred fierce resentment.

Yesterday, as the representatives of the summer Olympic Games met in Athens, there was much heated debate on this issue.

So while Chicago made the short-list, in order to win 2016 the Americans may have to accept that they cannot get their generous slice of the cake before the rest of the world any longer.

Many will make Chicago a favourite - America has not the Games since Atlanta in 1996 - but the outsider, Rio, will draw comfort from the fact that favourites don't often win.

For the 2012 race, London was only third on the short-list, comparing badly with Paris and Madrid, and when it lost its bid leader Barbara Casani, Seb Coe replacing her, the chances of London winning seemed remote.

Sochi was even more of an outsider for the 2014 Winter Games but, just like London in 2012, it won in the end.

There is a chance that 2016 could produce a similarly surprising winner.


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