This Friday, October 2, at 9:30 am PST (or 11:30 am CST), the world will know which city has been chosen as the host for the 2016 Summer Olympics. For those who live in Chicago, Madrid, Rio and Tokyo, the four finalist cities, they are especially anxious.
Each city will have spent countless millions of dollars over the past few years to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that they have what it takes to host such a prestigious global event –one that, as history shows, brings considerable glory and attention to that city. Each city has made elaborate presentations, multimedia and otherwise, to do everything it can to make its case. Some have built stadiums to prove that they have the infrastructure. Some have spent millions on improving transportation. Some have even brought out some dazzling luminaries to make the critical pushes needed in order to have IOC President Jacques Rogge deliver that all-important announcement, live in Copenhagen.
I happened to be in Singapore in July 2005 when the IOC met there to announce the surprise winner of the 2012 Games, which was London. Paris was the favorite, and the French entourage was in full force, led by President Jacques Chirac and other officials. The London contingency, led by former Olympic medalist in track, Sebastian Coe, had matched Chirac’s presence with an especially upbeat Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now credited with making decisive and bold presentations to the audience.
One afternoon inside a ritzy shopping center next to the Raffles Hotel, hundreds had gathered to watch the live feed in which Rogge announced the rather shocking news that Paris had been passed over in favor of London, which brought both shrieks and gasps from the crowd. Blair had apparently spent two full days conducting one-on-one appeals with IOC members. It’s clear that not just the presence of a head of state matters in these kinds of negotiations, but it also suggests that a full-court media press is essential.
The run-up to Friday’s announcement is no different, with each city mounting heavy media artillery to try to convince IOC members who will ultimately vote for the host city. Rio de Janiero has a website that just announced the arrival yesterday of legendary soccer player Pele in Copenhagen. Madrid’s website details its delegation’s official departure for the Danish capital this week for their quest. The Tokyo bid is also described on their oddly animated site .
Meanwhile, the folks in Chicago have both President Obama and his wife Michelle leading a delegation that includes not just the grandiose Oprah Winfrey and Chicago mayor Richard Daley, but also select Olympic athlete “ambassadors”, all eager to get in front of the 100 IOC members whom they have to press flesh with in order to sway their votes. Michelle Obama is said to have dispatched White House staff to twist some arms, including senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett is said to have spent a lot of time recently with former British PM Tony Blair, asking him how he was able to make his personal diplomatic efforts in 2005 turn out so successfully.
But it was just two days ago that the White House announced that Mr. Obama would be going. At first, the First Lady was going to lead the public delegation. Our impression is this: the US Olympic Committee was disappointed that the President had at first politely said no to his involvement, with the White House signaling that events at home, including health care legislation, the stagnant economy and the war in Afghanistan –you know, this wouldn’t be the best time for the President to be hobnobbing with officials. We also think that Chicago also was losing some ground among it and the other heavy favorite city, Rio, in these last days of consideration. To put it bluntly, the adding of Mr. Obama at the last moment feels a little tacked on.
Who cares that Republicans are angry that he is jetting off somewhere when there are more pressing matters of state than promoting a showy event that won’t be around for 7 more years? Obama himself says he will only be in Copenhagen for four hours. Hmm. He will jet in, shake some hands, hug Oprah, make the final pitch, then leave right away? Is his worldwide superstar status something that will slay the IOC crowd? Couldn’t he have extended his stay to, say, the rest of the day? Will he stick around for the announcement, then hold an impromptu news conference reacting to the news? OK, enough with the questions, but it does seem noteworthy that the White House now seems to have finally reprioritized the snagging of the 2016 Olympics for Chicago as a deeply important matter.
And perhaps they should. We don’t think Chicago will get the games. Not because it hasn’t mounted a spectacular campaign these past few years. Not because Chicago stands to raise its global profile as a city that can successfully provide the infrastructure and glitz needed to make the IOC and the global appeal of the Olympics brand so strong. However,we think that there is a city that has worked just as hard and it will be chosen on Friday: Rio. Rio makes the convincing argument that never have the Olympics been held in South America. (The closest Latin America got was the games in 1968 in Mexico City.) That’s a powerful statement and it should make the IOC feel that the Southern Hemisphere simply has been shunned. President Lula da Silva and his delegation have continually harped on this. Rio has also spent a lot of money in the last few years responding to suggestions, such as building stadiums and venues for Olympics events and taming the local crime problems that befall a city as large as Rio.
Don’t get us wrong. Chicago would be a splendid choice and the Windy City is an awesome, eclectic city that is also heavily involved in local culture. But does another US city really need the Olympics so soon after LA (1984) and Atlanta (1996), and is there perhaps a US bias that makes it, fairly or unfairly, instantly appealing to members? We feel Rio would be more qualified for the reasons cited above, but also because it’s easily the pluckiest of all the delegations, They have worked aggressively and have marshaled pretty good arguments as to “Why Rio” and they seem to be generating a global awareness campaign in the making.
We’re afraid this isn’t the US’s time to shine, despite the aura of the Obamas and the Oprah factor, and retinue of the various luminaries and accoutrements given out these past few weeks –this four-hour trip is something the White House will simply think of as well. If we’re wrong on the selection, then so be it. But we think the final momentum points to a new Brazilian city on the horizon and eager to take the country forward as a major world destination. The IOC can’t afford to ignore this trend, and the timing feels right because Rio stands to gain a lot from this kind of exposure for this, the most watched global sports event around.