Chicago's Not Their Kind of Town
Rio de Janeiro Awarded 2016 Olympics as Obama's Endorsement Fails to Sway IOC
Saturday, October 3, 2009
COPENHAGEN, Oct. 2 -- Unswayed by a lobbying effort by President Obama, the International Olympic Committee decided to send the Games to South America for the first time, inspiring shouts of joy on Rio de Janeiro's beaches and leaving supporters in Chicago shocked and disappointed.
The IOC awarded the 2016 Summer Games to Rio de Janeiro more than an hour after unceremoniously booting Chicago out of the four-city fight for the Games in the first round of secret-ballot voting. Though many present at the vote said Obama's appearance was overwhelmingly well-received, it was not the deal-clincher for his home city some anticipated. Chicago received just 18 of 94 first-round votes, news that silenced revelers who had gathered at Chicago's Daley Plaza and left bid leaders in tears.
Chicago's swift rejection was a public embarrassment for Obama, who earlier this week changed course and decided to travel to the Danish capital to lend his personal popularity and the prestige of his office to his adopted home town's effort. He was the first U.S. president to lobby the Olympic committee. The outcome left Obama disappointed, and he was subdued when he returned to the White House after his whirlwind trip.
"I believe it is always a worthwhile endeavor to promote and boost the United States of America and invite the world to see what we're all about," he told reporters in the Rose Garden.
Facing two wars, a teetering economy and a raging health care debate, Obama came under sharp criticism from Republican leaders for immersing himself in Chicago's effort.
"Our country needs the president's undivided attention on the urgent issues facing American families today: rising unemployment, soaring health care costs, winning the war in Afghanistan and dealing with Iran's nuclear threat," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said.
While Obama's presence dominated the domestic political discussion, those familiar with the shrouded, often inscrutable politics of the International Olympic Committee said the decision reflected not on Obama's stature but rather on the reputation and perception of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Members of the IOC have called the USOC's share of Olympic television and sponsorship revenue "immoral," and relations between the bodies were further enflamed recently when the USOC announced plans for an independent television deal, which was scuttled in the contentious aftermath.
IOC members "don't hate America, they hate the USOC, and with good reason," said Dick Ebersol, who controls the Olympic operation for NBC, the biggest Olympic rights holder. "Congress doesn't need to do any new reform. The USOC just needs new leadership."
Obama, who arrived here early Friday, spent just five hours in the Danish capital and was en route to Washington on Air Force One with first lady Michelle Obama, who had also stumped for the bid, when the decision was announced.
"I'm not shocked that we lost," said Chicago sports marketer Jeff Bail, who stood with other distraught residents at Daley Plaza, where giant screens showed the announcement live. "I'm absolutely, completely shocked that we lost in the first round."
Tokyo fell out in the second round with 20 votes and Madrid was crushed by Rio by a 66-to-32 vote in the final round.
"All the IOC [doesn't] consider this a defeat of the president of the United States of America," said Mario Pescante, an IOC member from Italy. "We appreciate the courage of the president in coming."