Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Will Obama Bring the Olympics to Chicago?

Summary: Nothing like a little competition to make things interesting - Obama joins other leaders in the race for the 2016 Olympics. Go Chicago!

It’s been months of competition and International Olympic Committee (IOC) evaluations since we last posted about Chicago’s chances of hosting the 2016 Olympics.

As we found back in March, the Windy City may be at risk of losing the games to one of four competitor cities (Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, or Madrid) if they could not pull in more community support.

Since then, things began to look even less positive for Chicago’s chances. Support for the games among Chicago residents dropped to just 47% - with 45% opposing - as recently as last month.

Then, just last week, it was announced that President Barack Obama would go to Copenhagen himself to lobby the IOC on behalf of Chicago’s bid. Perhaps it’s not a direct correlation, but since then, a Zogby International poll found that support for the 2016 bid is now at 72% among Chicago residents.

Meanwhile, the main opposition group to the Chicago bid - No Games Chicago - have had trouble organizing opponents of Chicago 2016. A protest they held yesterday only produced about 250 people in opposition to hosting the games in a city of about 3 million.

Nonetheless, the president’s decision came with some political backlash. Republican leaders - including RNC Chairman Michael Steele and House Minority Leader John Boehner - have criticized the Copenhagen trip as a distraction in the midst of the healthcare debate.

And when one really thinks about it, you have to wonder if it could actually hurt Chicago’s chances - it would seem to be a little precocious.

Not exactly.

This is exactly how former British Prime Minister Tony Blair secured the London 2012 games, and how former Russian President (now Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin secured the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Like Obama is doing now, they worked the phones and traveled across the globe to meet with IOC members before the vote.

In fact, leaders of the other three countries with a city in the race are making similar efforts. Spanish King Juan Carlos and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva have already landed in Denmark to promote the Madrid and Rio de Janeiro bids, respectively. The new Japanese Prime Minister - Yukio Hatoyama - will be arriving tomorrow on Tokyo’s behalf.

President Obama won’t be there until Friday - the day of the vote - but First Lady Michelle Obama is currently there meeting with IOC officials and American diplomats who have also been honed in to win Chicago’s favor.

And the race is close. From the AP:

IOC votes can be highly unpredictable. Aside from the paramount questions of whether bidding cities' Olympic plans are technically and financially feasible, emotion, sentiment, geography, politics, self-interest and other factors also play a role.

IOC vice president Chiharu Igaya said "many" IOC members are undecided and will choose only after the cities' final presentations Friday. "The four cities are now neck-to-neck," he told the AP.

"That final presentation, yes, it's going to be crucial," said Willi Kaltschmitt, an IOC member since 1988. He said he believes that half or more of his 105 colleagues remain undecided.

Added British IOC member Craig Reedie: "This is really close. The closer it gets the more people will say, let me think about it. We all want to see the presentations. It's what people see that will count. Decided? No, I haven't actually. I'm getting close."

Meanwhile, online betting - which now covers everything from sports to electoral politics to Emmy contests - appears to be swinging towards Chicago. According to the Betting Press, the odds that the Windy City will win its bid are now 10/11, with the next closest rival - Rio - at 6/4.

With just two days until the IOC makes their decision, the contest is still up in the air. That being said, it seems that Obama’s decision to fight for the Olympics in his hometown has made Chicago’s 2016 prospects all the more possible.

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