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Of bids, bidders, builders and games

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Mihir Bose | 18:54 UK time, Wednesday, 17 June 2009

If you wanted to know what sports politics is like then the place to be on Wednesday was the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.

The museum may be dedicated to the exploits of some of the greatest sportsmen the world has ever seen but on Wednesday this was more like Blackpool or Brighton during the party conference season. Except that is for its setting by the glistening Lake Leman, with the Alps across the water. Far more bewitching than anything Blackpool or Brighton can provide, and the whole event demonstrated that even in these recessionary times the Olympics remain a great draw. So much so that many of the world's top cities, for all their economic problems, are spending millions to get the 2016 Games.

At the Olympic Museum wherever you turned there were sports administrators playing politicians and not a few real-life politicians taking time off from coping with the recession to show their mastery of sports.

Rio's bid team on stage

So there was Mario Pescante, the Italian sports minister, just as he was on the point of explaining why his Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had sold Kaka to Real Madrid (it seems Berlusconi was keen to look more of a realist in these bleak times), he was dragged away to talk to the governor of Tokyo, a man who says the bid process is more taxing then managing a city of 13 million people.

Just as the Japanese and Italian politicians conferred around a corner came the governor of the central bank of Brazil leading to a supporter of Rio saying exultantly: "This is the new reality in these times of economic hardship. When did the governor of the central bank of a country come to address members of the International Olympic Committee? He did so to explain why Rio can and will be able to finance the Olympics."

Words which would have interested Richard Daley, Mayor of Chicago, who not long before that had emerged from presenting the city's case to the 93 International Olympic Committee members present.

The Rio supporter's words were certainly meant as a jibe to Chicago, which alone of the four 2016 bids - Rio, Madrid and Tokyo - is privately financed as all United States bids have always been. Except when the symbols of American capitalism such as the car industry are in ruins it is hard to see how a private sector bid can match a government-supported one.

This may explain why the IOC members grilled Chicago more than any other bid. Twenty-two questions which made Chicago overrun its time. Some in the Tokyo team felt insulted they had not merited so many questions although the general view was that this showed members had doubts about Chicago's financing. But one member I spoke to gave Chicago high marks for its presentation.

Chicago was also the only one who came to Lausanne complete with their own anti-group. As IOC members trooped into the museum they were met by No Games Chicago citizens and handed a book of evidence which made the case why: it lacks money, it is not competent, it lacks infrastructure and does not have public support.

Chicago's bid team response is that the no group does not amount to much and when the IOC evaluation commission visited the city the no group could not muster much support. All I can say is the book of evidence would make a very convenient door-stopper.

Chicago's bid team

The show stopper for Chicago would, of course, be Barack Obama arguing the case for his home city. Chicago is keeping its counsel as to whether he will come to Copenhagen in October when the decision is made. There is little doubt their rivals are worried his star factor would overwhelm them. For Wednesday's meeting Obama did little, no videos just two still photos. But his senior adviser provided a video and on Wednesday morning Chicago e-mailed in some joy that Obama had effectively appointed a European-style sports minister, something that has always been alien to the American tradition of organising sports but it seen as showing his concern for sports.

The effect of star personalities having an impact on bids has been a factor ever since 2005 when Prime Minister Tony Blair won London the 2012 Games, reinforced by the Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin securing Sochi the 2014 Winter Olympics. The IOC has even considered whether they should ban the presence of heads of state and government and decided they could not. All 2016 bids are debating who could possibly match Obama, with the Japanese team keen for the presence of their crown prince and princess - they are unlikely to come.

Rio, of course, will have the feisty President Lula but in addition their trump card is the emotional one of no games ever having been held in Latin America. How can the Olympics be universal if it ignores such a huge part of the world? Chicago is certainly getting riled by it and at least their media is wondering if this not the sort of emotional blackmail that should not be allowed.

Far removed from sports but just the sort of thing that is top of the agenda when sports meets politics as it always does at the Olympics.

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