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Chicago's Olympic hopes in the balance

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Mihir Bose | 18:00 UK time, Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Now you may wonder what the American presidential election has got to do with the Olympics. Quite a lot. At the moment, four cities - Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo - are bidding for the Games in 2016.

Although it is too early in the race to say who will win - it is another year before the bid is decided - Chicago has generally been considered the favourite.

The United States has not had the Summer Games since 1996 in Atlanta, although it did stage the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002. Given their dominance of the Olympics, that is a long time.

You may think that's a bit rich. After all, should Chicago win, it will be the ninth time the Games - both summer and winter - have gone to the US. Remember, vast swathes of the world - South America, Africa and large chunks of Asia - have never had an Olympics. But then the US, which ends up paying most of the money needed to stage a Games, feels it has a right to them every few years.

The Chicago bid team is well-funded, well-organised and clearly feels it has learnt the lessons of Atlanta as well as New York's failed bid for the 2012 Games, which went to London. But this is where the issue of the American election comes in.

If John McCain wins, then the general view is that Chicago's bid is dead in the water. Why? Because, back in 1999, when the International Olympic Committee was in the middle of its corruption crisis ignited by revelations that emerged out of the Salt Lake City bid, McCain held a senate hearing on the Olympics.

At the hearing, the IOC was put firmly in the dock and Juan Antonio Samaranch, the then IOC president, was summoned to appear. He did not attend, as it turns out, but the IOC has not forgiven, let alone forgotten, what it feels was an McCain-inspired American war against the Olympic movement. Indeed, at one IOC session, members rose to voice their anger about the hearing.

So the view is that if he becomes president then all that the rival cities will have to do to sink Chicago's bid is bring up the subject of the IOC's humiliation at the hands of McCain and the US Congress.

US presidential hopeful Barack Obama

Now this does not mean a US presidential victory for Barack Obama will mean Chicago will win the right to stage the Games in 2016. But it is his city and, given the rest of the world seems to love him, that will make a difference. Should Obama decide to be in Copenhagen next October, when the host city is decided, then that will make an even better impression.

But an Obama win will not solve one particular thorny issue - and it concerns money. At the moment, the US Olympic Committee gets a big slice of funds generated from marketing and sponsorship deals as well as the sale of Olympic television rights before they are distributed to the rest of the IOC members.

This agreement, negotiated in the days when a cash-strapped IOC was rescued by American television and sponsors, is much resented by the rest of the Olympic family. However, despite months of negotiation, no settlement has been reached. If there is still no resolution by the time the IOC meets to decide the host city for the 2016 Games, not even an Obama victory in the US election on 4 November may help Chicago.


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