Friday, October 2, 2009

Chicago Blues

Rio de Janeiro’s selection to host the 2016 Olympics means the games will take place for the first time in South America. Meanwhile the surprise of the day was that Chicago was eliminated on the first round, perhaps due to bloc voting or anti-American sentiment.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva made a powerful pitch to the International Olympic Committee, "Rio will deliver an unforgettable Games. You will see for yourselves the passion, the energy and the creativity of the Brazilian people." He stressed that South America had never hosted an Olympics and, "Rio is ready. Give us this chance and you will not regret it."

Chicago's elimination on the first round elicited a huge gasp from the thousands of Chicagoans gathered downtown to watch the announcement. The Chicago team worked years preparing a thoroughly detailed and imaginative proposal. All of the Olympic venues would have been located near each other in the heart of the city, many along the spectacular lakefront. The government would back all of the costs associated with presenting the games. An outstanding array of corporate sponsors had been lined up, many of them global powerhouses. Central transportation, hotels and infrastructure were unsurpassed by the other bidders.

The Chicago delegation delivered a very strong and polished presentation. First Lady Michele Obama spoke from the heart about the city of her birth, "I never dreamed that the Olympic flame might one day light up lives in my neighborhood...But today...I am dreaming of an Olympic and Paralympic Games in Chicago that will light up lives in neighborhoods all across America and all across the world." President Obama, whose Chicago home would have been a short walk from the games, said, “To host athletes and visitors from every corner of the globe is a high honor and a great responsibility...And America is ready and eager to assume that sacred trust.”

But apparently the Olympic judges were not eager to give their trust to the Americans. And there were signs that the American delegation may have been over confident. In the official question-and-answer session following the Chicago presentation, Syed Shahid Ali, an I.O.C. member from Pakistan, asked how smooth it would be for foreigners to enter the United States for the Olympics because doing so can sometimes, he said, be “a rather harrowing experience.”

President Obama had no choice but to travel to Copenhagen. To not do so would have opened him up to criticism as the leaders of the other contending countries made the trip to make their pitch in person. By most accounts the Obamas were well received, "There is no evidence other than a positive reaction to their presence." said one official. But immediately following the announcement right-wing commentators and web sites in the U.S. attacked Obama. The Drudge report headline read, "THE EGO HAS LANDED, WORLD REJECTS OBAMA: CHICAGO OUT IN FIRST ROUND."

The fact that a South American country has never hosted an Olympics was a very compelling argument. And Rio is one of the world's most beautiful and romantic cities. There was plenty of reason for judges to be sentimental about Rio. On the other hand, no doubt many judges probably savored having the opportunity to reject America's bid. Despite President Obama's popularity there are strong anti-America feelings around the world based on its perceived role in the global economic collapse, its invasion of Iraq and the previous administration's “go it alone” policies.

Ironically, the city most known for its hardball politics couldn’t overcome the internal politics of the Olympic Committee to make it past the first round. As one IOC member said, “The whole thing doesn't make sense other there has been a stupid bloc vote."

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