This is it. We are just days from the decision on which city will host the 2016 Olympic Games. I know it seems a tad early to be talking about something seven years from now, but you know the host city has years of work ahead of it so the time is now. After a two-year global campaign featuring four world-class cities, one of the closest bid races in Olympic history will be decided Friday in a vote of the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen.
The bidding process goes back to May 2007 when cities around the world dropped their hat in the ring for a chance to win the Olympic rings. Four cities were chosen as the final candidates in June 2008: Tokyo, Rio De Janeiro, Madrid, and Chicago. I have visited three out of four of these cities and can say without hesitation that they are all fabulous. But for some reason I am hoping for Chicago.
At stake is international prestige and exposure, billions of dollars in potential investment and economic spinoffs, and the honor of staging the world’s biggest sports extravaganza.
The decision may come down to two key issues: How much will President Barack Obama’s visit to Copenhagen to pitch Chicago’s case in person affect the outcome? Is the IOC ready to take a bit of a gamble on Rio and send the Olympics to South America for the very first time?
IOC president Jacques Rogge expects the race for the 2016 Olympics to be decided by “a couple of votes” and says Chicago’s chances shouldn’t hinge on President Obama’s personal visit to push his home city’s bid. Initially Obama announced he would not be able to attend the vote and that First lady Michelle Obama would go in his place. Now it is reported that he will be there.
“I see really no favorite,” Rogge said last week in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I think it’s going to be a very close vote. I think the final vote will be decided by a couple of votes only.”
This amazing city of lights and energy was once considered a possible shoe-in for the games. The country has deep pockets to back the huge financial undertaking of hosting an Olympic Games. Tokyo boasts an amazing infrastructure of public transport and a plan to keep most game facilities within an eight kilometer radius. But the city’s populous seem to think otherwise. Only 55% of the population supports the games returning to Tokyo (they also hosted in 1964). This is the lowest in that category in which Madrid has the highest percentage with 86% of its citizens supporting the games.
This is Madrid’s second straight bid. The city finished third behind winner London and Paris in the 2005 vote for the 2012 Olympics. Madrid also was a candidate for the 1972 Games that went to Munich. The capital city of Spain has about 70 percent of venues completed, a superb transportation system, full financial backing and the overwhelming support of its people – even the King of Spain. Some reports say that Madrid is not the favorite to be chosen for several reasons: partly because Barcelona held the games in 1992, just 20 years ago, while London is to host the 2012 Games and the IOC is unlikely to return to Europe for 2016.
Rio de Janeiro
In this race, Rio – besides its iconic beaches and stunning backdrop – has the strongest emotional pull of the four candidates. The Olympics have never been held in South America and the time has come to try something new.
“For others it would be just another Olympics, but for Brazil it would be something to raise the self esteem of the people,” Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said this week. “No other city needs to host an Olympics. Brazil needs it. … Do only rich countries have the right to host the Olympics?”
Rio seemed to pick up the unofficial front-runner’s tag in June when the bid cities made presentations to IOC members in a specially arranged meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. Rio officials made a splash by unveiling a big world map with dots showing where all the Olympics have been held – and a big empty space for South America.
My city… and the adopted hometown of the United States President Barack Obama is expected to be a front runner along with Rio. Chicago’s so called ‘front lawn,’ a long stretch of parks and lakefront would give the Games a glittering backdrop, like Rio, and plenty of room for playing venues that would not displace millions of people, as they did in Beijing.
Despite this week’s announcement that Obama will make a special appearance in Copenhagen, Olympic officials say they are not worried that his presence may sway the vote. Maybe another “O” will help. Oprah Winfrey is supposed to be there to support Chicago’s bid as well. Chicago is bidding to bring the Summer Games back to the U.S. for the first time since Atlanta in 1996. The bid, which would bring the games back to the Olympics’ most lucrative market for sponsorships and television rights, is centered on a compact plan putting most athletes within 15 minutes of their venues along picturesque, ocean-like Lake Michigan. Chicago overcame one of its biggest hurdles when the city council approved all financial guarantees for the games, clearing the way for Mayor Richard M. Daley to sign the host city contract if Chicago wins. That was a major step for a U.S. bid city, which – unlike rival candidates – can’t rely on federal government financial backing.