Impact of Obama on Olympic Selection Process

Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Friday, October 2, 2009; 12:30 PM

How did President Obama's personal appeal affect the decision of the International Olympics Committee on the host city for the 2016 Summer Games? Sports columnist Tracee Hamilton discussed the politics of the selection process, the impact on the host city and more.


Odenton, Md.: The IOC just gave Obama the middle finger, didn't they?

Tracee Hamilton: I am not sure that's the case. I think perhaps the IOC just gave the USOC the finger. There is a lot of bad feeling between the two groups and this was a surefire way of teaching the USOC a lesson.


Marshall, Texas: In your estimation, what were Obama and his advisers thinking he would accomplish when he jetted off at the last hour to chase these games? At that point in time, haven't these IOC members made their back-room deals such as they know the likely outcome? Don't Obama's advisers know how the game works?

Tracee Hamilton: No, I disagree. Tony Blair's presence in Singapore definitely put London over the top, and Putin had a remarkable affect in getting Socchi the Games. I think some members had made up their minds, but certainly not all of them, and I do think some minds can be changed, even in this bunch of ... people.


Raleigh, NC: Do you think the Obamas and Oprah will be gracious losers?

Tracee Hamilton: Absolutely. I think they'll be their usual charming selves. For one thing, Chicago may not be done trying to land an Olympics, so you can't burn that bridge.


Washington, DC: No surprise Chicago was ousted in the early rounds. In this economy there would surely be intense oversight of how Olympic $$$ are spent, even in Chicago. The Olympic committee has a rich history of expecting and receiving bribes, so they'll award the games to a country where financial scrutiny won't be as vigorous as in the U.S.

Tracee Hamilton: Well, I'll just throw this out there for comment. I'm not going to dispute the point, certainly.


Hyattsville, Md.: I think that it's great that a South American city is hosting the Olympics, but won't it be a bit much after Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup?

Tracee Hamilton: It's a lot for Brazil to handle, certainly. I'm guessing the World Cup experience will make their Olympic experience smoother.


Alexandria, VA: Obama aside, what do you think were the primary reasons for such a dramatic rejection -- the first city/country to be voted out?

Tracee Hamilton: I think it is the battle over TV money, personally. The IOC wants a bigger piece of the U.S. network deal. Then the USOC foolishly declared it would start its own Olympic network with Comcast, showing trials, etc. That ENRAGED the IOC, to put it mildly.


Reston, Va: Why are there bad feelings between the IOC and USOC?

Tracee Hamilton: See the previous response. The short answer, as it often is, is MONEY.


Chicago Ex-Pat in DC: I was stunned to read earlier this week that over 1/2 of Chicagoans polled did not want their city to host the Olympics. What can they have been thinking? It would have been glorious!

Does the Olympic Selection Committee take this sort of thing into account in making their decision?

Tracee Hamilton: I was surprised about that. There is always a vocal anti-Olympic group in every host city. (I didn't see the science behind that poll, by the way, but I think it was legit.) The cost, the infrastructure tear-up, the general disruption of day-to-day life ... I assume it was all of those reasons. That said, there would have been some real benefits to it. The Chicago plan was strong; the venues were fairly closely grouped, especially compared to Rio's bid, which is fairly spread out, and not a ton of new construction was needed.


Fairfax, Va.: Why do the games rotate? The cost seems outlandish both for the prep work and the actual games. The Olympic movement has been ongoing long enough that the globe is practically tapped out. In these days of hunger, bad economies and more, why should governments guarantee such largess for a few days of sport? It's important, yes, but my question: isn't it a better idea to select four permanent summer Olympic cities and three winter Olympic cities and just rotate the games? I know it will never happen, but just a thought.

Tracee Hamilton: I'm somewhat in favor of this, although for selfish reasons. I think the Olympic movement's heart is in the right place: it wants to bring the spectacle of the Olympic Games to all corners of the world -- including, sometime soon, Africa. I think it's a noble goal on its face but the demands on the host country have just grown out of all proportion, especially once airtight security was added to the mix. And yet, every time an Olympics becomes available, countries and cities line up for the opportunity, and they certainly are free not to. It's an incredibly prestigious thing, to be chosen.


Chicago: Like a lot of Chicagoans, I'm stunned and disappointed that we lost. And that we lost so quickly.

Forget about what this says about Obama or Chicago or the bid -- what does this say about the Olympics itself? Arrogant? Will the movement suffer for having so publicly snubbed the most powerful man in the free world? Here's President Obama putting his personal prestige on the line, and they thank him by humiliating his city's bid. Will there be any blowback? It's not like the average American cares very much about most Olympic sports anyway. Maybe Americans will tune 2016 out? Thanks.

Tracee Hamilton: I am guessing that by 2016 a lot of this will be forgotten (although perhaps not buy Chicagoans). After all, it's seven years away. And Chicago will have another opportunity to bid -- if it wants to. That to me is the next big question: Will Chicago keep trying? It's such a commitment of time and money.


20009: Why do think Rio won? Simply because it is in South America?

Tracee Hamilton: I do think that was the paramount reason. That's not to say that their bid was no good. It's a little spread out for a city with its congestion, and crime there is certainly a concern, so I think to overcome those obstacles it really falls to "it's time to go to South America."


Washington, DC: Why is this being played as Obama's loss? Number one, South America has never hosted an Olympic Games, so they were due and Rio is a wonderful city.

Number two, a lot of people in Chicago were concerned about the negative impact of the games in their city, and didn't want it anyway.

Number three, it would've been weird if one of Chicago's most famous residents -didn't- try to get the games for his town, win or lose.

Tracee Hamilton: I don't know, because we love to finger-point, I guess. To me it's not on the Obamas at all. This is not an objective process, it's a subjective one. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you can't win over a crowd. If they wanted Rio, they were going to get Rio. Being out on the first ballot, now, that's the part that stuns me.


Chicago: My believe is that IOC is totally corrupt and undemocratic. How many votes were received by Chicago?

Tracee Hamilton: I haven't seen any vote totals yet.


No Olympics, no scandals: No Olympics is a win-win. No drug, steroid, judging or gender scandals. No cost overruns, traffic congestion, and the worst of all money loss without turning a profit.

Tracee Hamilton: You give a good list of why a lot people don't want to host an Olympics.


Odenton, Md.: Darren Rovell says the IOC just left a potential $250 million in TV rights fees on the table.

Chicago Should Win Olympic Bid

But you just said the IOC is mad at the USOC over US TV Rights. So is he mistaken, and the USOC just potentially lost $250 million?

Tracee Hamilton: The IOC wants a bigger share of the USOC's money from the TV rights now. They are also mad about the network business with Comcast. He's saying that U.S. television will pay more for a U.S.-based Olympics, and that's true, but remember NBC paid $2.001 billion for Vancouver and Sochi. I also think that NBC will be willing to pay whatever the IOC wants them to pay for the Games, in all honesty. It's become such a brand thing for them.


Anti-Olympics, understandable. : Tracee Hamilton: "I was surprised about that. There is always a vocal anti-Olympic group" maybe not everyone is sports obsessed, and to some there's too much scandal: drugs, steroids, cheating, judging debates, graft. Sports has become way overrated, it's just business after all.

Tracee Hamilton: I wasn't surprised that there were people against the Olympics; I WAS surprised by the number of people who said they didn't want it. I agree that a lot of people are turned off by all the bad things that surround sports.


Fair Play: In reports about Obama going to campaign for Chicago in Copenhagen, I haven't seem much refernce that ALL THREE COUNTRIES had their leaders (well, head of state/government) campaign. Wouldn't this one small bit of information be essential to provide some context?

Tracee Hamilton: I think it's been widely reported. I wrote about it on Sept. 12 and Amy Shipley just had a story about the celebrity aspect of the Olympic delegations two days ago. This was one of the reasons there was so much pressure on Obama to go: everyone else was doing it! It's like world leader peer pressure.


McLean, VA: Most assumptions seemded to be that the 2008 games being in Asia and the 2012 games in Europe would mean quick elimination of the Tokyo and Madrid bids. How little faith did the committee have in the Chicago bid that it failed so quickly even in light of the IOC's attempts to rotate continents?

Tracee Hamilton: I am not sure the quality of the bid is the problem. I think it's safe to say all four bids were strong, because they were the final four bids after a long comeptition.

I sort of expected Rio to win; I certainly thought Tokyo would be the first to go. Madrid ... yes, Madrid should have been eliminated before the U.S. but Samaranch made a plea and I'm sure he still has pals among that bunch.


Good for Rio!: (I have Duran Duran in my head now)

In contrast to other places, Rio really can benefit from the increased infrastructure investments. Unlike London, for example, these improvements can set the stage for further development -- more like Beijing, in my opinion.

As a native of Salt Lake City, I know how the hubbub of locals can really grate. It was a multi-decade process, but one of the most proud times for Utah, and arguably a big win for the US in public opinion.

Good for Rio! (one of my favorite places -- hopefully will go!)

Tracee Hamilton: I have had Duran Duran in my head all day as well, along with "Colour My World" for obvious reasons. If Rio is smart in its planning then yes, it can definitely benefit from the Games.


Silver Spring, MD: I'm amazed that so many people are "stunned" by this decision. It's as if they assume that the USA should always be favored to host the games.

Add to that the "O-factor" (Obamas and Oprah) and it's "gee, we can't lose".

All four cities who made it to this "finals" round are wonderful cities with much to offer.

Seems like we (USA) have a long way to go in learning humility and graciousness.

Tracee Hamilton: Honestly, I think most people are stunned that Chicago was the first out, for all the reasons stated. I don't think it's stunning Chicago didn't win. And yes, those are top notch cities, all of them.


Chicago, IL: To Chicago ex-pat in DC: There was plenty of opposition to the Olympics here for a variety of reasons: risk of overruns being stuck on taxpayers, corruption, etc. If you haven't noticed, we have one ex-governor in jail, another headed that way, an illegitmate senator, a nepotistically-appointed county board president who's given us the higher sales tax in the nation, ongoing federal probes of City Hall etc. etc. etc. Not a political environment that inspires confidence.

Tracee Hamilton: Good insight from Chicago, and good points. I can imagine trust in elected officials would be at low tide right now.


Silver Spring, Md.: I think it was appropriate for Obama to go and represent his country (and his city). His mistake was saying earlier that he wouldn't go, and then changing his mind.

This SHOULDN'T impact his presidency in any way. But we'll see what the MSM makes of it.

That said, I've no problem with the USA not hosting the Olympics for a while. We've hosted the "games" far more than any other country, especially over that past 30 years.

Nominations for permanent host cities:

Summer games: Sydney, Australia Winter games: Lillehammer, Norway

Tracee Hamilton: Agree about this not impacting his Presidency.

Love Lillehammer as a permanent winter host. Hate Sydney. Those were some great Olympics but the time difference left us with nothing live to see. I am against the pre-packaged presentation of the Olympics. So let's keep looking for a summer host!


Arlington, VA: The U.S. TV rights won't be much different. Rio is just one hour ahead of Eastern time, and thus one hour closer to European prime time.

Tracee Hamilton: Yes, time zone-wise, this is a win.


Chesapeake Beach, MD: Do you think some strategic voting or vote trading might have harmed Chicago, i.e. someone saying 'we'll vote for you in the first round but in the second we're going with them when it is Rio v. Chicago'?

Tracee Hamilton: This is a good question and the details are just now starting to come out. This is from the AP story:

Senior Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper surmised that Asian voters may have banded together for Tokyo in the first round, at Chicago's expense.

"I'm shocked," Gosper said. "The whole thing doesn't make sense other than there has been a stupid bloc vote." He worried that the shock exit could do "untold damage" to the already testy relations between the IOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee. They had recent flare-ups over revenue sharing and a USOC TV network.

"To have the president of the United States and his wife personally appear, then this should happen in the first round is awful and totally undeserving," Gosper said.


Alexandria, Va.: My MediCare card may be showing, but what is a "Duran Duran" and why does it, he, she come to mind during this Olympic vote? YouTube - Duran Duran - Rio

Tracee Hamilton: Thanks, Paul! (It's a video from the very early days of MTV, when Duran Duran was a staple of that network. I think the actual name of the song is "Her Name is Rio" but that could just be my faulty memory.)


Cabin John: Uhhh, isn't Greece the obvious permanent summer host?

Tracee Hamilton: Yes, it SEEMS the natural choice. And yet for me ... no.


Lorton: What will we have to do for the US to host another Olympics? Is it even likely any more?

Tracee Hamilton: I think so. The IOC and USOC will work out their issues, eventually. The U.S. is still home to major Olympic sponsors. Our TV networks (currently) shell out big bucks. Etc etc. The question will be, does Chicago want to chase it again? If not, who does? This may discourage other cities from wanting to play the game. But I wouldn't expect there to be a dampening effect forever.


Chicago: Even the BBC reported Chicago's early exit as a "shock first-round casualty." And there were gasps in the room in Copenhagen when it was announced. I'm not sure why Silver Spring thinks that means Americans don't have humility or grace. Maybe things can happen without it always becoming a referendum on whether Americans are uniquely horrible boors.

Tracee Hamilton: Yeah, I haven't heard any anti-Rio remarks and don't really expect to. Those are four world-class cities, for heaven's sake. But to go out in the first round WAS shocking, and Gosper's explanation may be as good as any.


Germantown, Md.: Given how IOC typically thinks (give it to Rio because the Olympics hasn't been held in South America), why would any other city bother to bid if Johannesburg, South Africa decides to host the 2020 or 2024 event, for example?

I think IOC, just like the UN, is driven more by world politics and under-the-table dealings than by economic common sense. Look at Athens, which practically came close to bankruptcy in 2004 with a $16 billion bill.

Tracee Hamilton: I would agree that when a viable African bid comes up, I would not want to spend the money to go against it. The Olympics haven't been on two continents: Africa and Antarctica. (Boss, I do not wish to cover the Antarctic Olympics, FYI.) :) I love winter, but oy!


McLean, Va.: "The question will be, does Chicago want to chase it again? If not, who does?"

Boston. Which seems like a fantastic potential host city to me.

Tracee Hamilton: Boston would be great. One thing I found interesting: There was a lot of talk that Chicago wasn't known worldwide, which is surprising considering that ethnically, Chicago is a total melting pot. Does Boston have more international cache? I'm not sure...


Fairfax, Virginia: I believe Silver Spring, Md is naive. When a President, his wife, and a grand entourage that include Oprah, go to an international gathering to try to persuade it to do almost anything, a negative decision will fall on him. You would agree that if Chicago had won, Mr. Obama would have been hailed? So, the reverse is true. Tracee?

Tracee Hamilton: Fairfax, I wrote a brilliant answer and then lost it. :) I think that if Chicago had won, Obama would have gotten some of the credit and deserved it. Chicago was certainly not a shoo-in and if Chicago and Rio had come down to the final vote and Chicago won, I think that would be been partly due to Obama.

I don't think the blame can fall on him, however (although I think it probably will) because from the voting it seems clear that everyone involved had an agenda and there was probably nothing he could have done.

That said, if he hadn't gone, and they went out on the first vote ... oh my! So when someone -- Michelle Obama? -- said they were damned if they did and damned if they didn't, that was just about right.


Fairfax, Va.: Chicago should have brought in Jack Abramoff to run the bid. He's good at that sort of thing.

Tracee Hamilton: HA. I'll throw that out there.


Permanent Summer Host: Barcelona--It's a city that was large enough to handle the Olympics, but small enough to feel a community around them. The focus was on the games, not on politics. Plus it's an absolutely beautiful location.

Tracee Hamilton: Ooooo, good choice. So it's decided: Lillehammer and Barcelona. I'll call Mr. Rogge and let him know right away!


2020 Olympics: Make your pick:

Istanbul, Turkey - would be first muslim nation to host

Dehli, India - would be first Hindu/muslim nation to host

Cape Town, South Africa - would be first African nation to host

Yes, I know there are dozens of other bidders (Detroit and Boston among them), but based on the Rio vote, I think these are the front runners... my pick is Turkey to make up for the whole EU membership fiasco.

Tracee Hamilton: I might change my answer after next year's World Cup. We'll know a lot more about South Africa's readiness then. But I think Turkey makes sense. Although again, they will eventually have to return to these shores, even if they don't want to, for political and financial reasons.


Alexandria, VA: This may be off-topic, but I don't watch events any more in which placing is primarily in the hands of judges -- that includes diving, figure skating, and gymnastics. What if the IOC were to select and train an impartial panel of judges from some country that has lower participation profile -- this might be a Switzerland -- which really only fields skiers, who race against a clock.

Tracee Hamilton: Stop making sense, Alexandria!


NY, NY: I'm quite surprised that people are making a lot of generalizations about Chicago's bid and the US's bids in general (e.g., the US assumes they'll get the games). Do you forget that NYC2012 was a HUGE bid to get the 2012 summer Olympics in NYC, and that too failed? People have short memories, and anyone who really follows the Olympics knows that while the US has a place at the table, just because they make a bid by no means guarantees they'll win the games.

Tracee Hamilton: I think New York's loss is one reason people are surprised about Chicago; every time a U.S. city loses, folks assume the NEXT U.S. city will win. By the time the next summer games are awarded (2013), we'll be 14 years removed from Atlanta and I'm sure we'll be expecting to at least be in the running. It'll be interesting to see if that happens.

Gotta run, folks, and finish my column for tomorrow. Thanks so much for all the good questions and discussion!



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