The Wall Street Journal
OCTOBER 5, 2009
Rio Throws Chicago for a Loop
Rising Brazil's Win of 2016 Olympics Is Blow to Obama, Boon for Developing World
A Brazilian celebrates in Copenhagen after Rio de Janeiro won the right to host the 2016 Olympics.
Rio de Janeiro, in a dramatic victory over much-wealthier cities, won the right to host the 2016 Olympics, bringing the Games to South America for the first time and crystallizing Brazil's rise as an economic and political power.
Chicago was knocked out in the first round of voting by the International Olympic Committee on Friday, despite a personal appeal by President Barack Obama, in a setback for the local organizers, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the president himself. Tokyo was also eliminated in the second round, leaving only Madrid to go toe-to-toe with Rio at the end.
Brazil's strategy tapped into a strong current of resentment among delegates outside Europe and North America whose countries had also never hosted the Games. Brazil had lobbied these voters behind the scenes in a bid to win over a contingent they thought would be sympathetic to their cause. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pleaded with IOC voters to send a "powerful message...that the Olympic Games belong to all people, all continents, and to all humanity."
The vote for Rio rebuffed a Chicago bid that appeared flat and uninspired against Mr. da Silva's populist approach. The rebuff was an embarrassment to the president: Mr. Obama flew to Copenhagen overnight to deliver a seven-minute speech to the IOC Friday morning. First lady Michelle Obama spent much of this week in Copenhagen lobbying IOC members. Chicago television personality Oprah Winfrey also joined the campaign.
Heading into the vote, the conventional wisdom among Olympics watchers, bookmakers, and IOC members was that this was a two-city race between Rio and Chicago. But other than the speeches from the Obamas, Chicago's presentation left the delegates largely silent and unemotional. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Pat Ryan, the leader of Chicago2016, the organization that led the city's bid for the Games, spoke about new sports programs the Olympics would help start and nearby universities that wanted to help in the effort. The pitch contrasted the one given by representatives of Rio, who spoke of an entire continent yearning for acceptance.
Madrid's presentation also may have cooled Chicago's chances. In it, former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch from Spain -- a man who still carries much influence in IOC corridors -- put forth a bittersweet request to his former colleagues. "I am very near the end of my time," said Mr. Samaranch, 89 years old. "I ask you to consider granting my country the honor and the duty of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2016."
The plea likely helped draw votes to Madrid in the first round of voting, when Chicago was knocked out, that might have otherwise helped Chicago survive to the second round. Yet the votes were little more than a gesture since holding the Games in Madrid in 2016 would have given Europe three consecutive Games after London in 2012 and Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
After Chicago was eliminated, IOC members said Chicago's bid suffered from a lack of natural geographical support. Madrid had strong European backing, while Tokyo had Asian supporters and Rio was popular with much of the developing world.
USOC chairman Larry Probst and President Stephanie Streeter, both of whom could shoulder the blame for Chicago's loss, rushed from the Bella Center in Copenhagen after the vote. Both declined to comment. This summer the USOC announced plans to start its own cable network, a move that angered prominent IOC members, who had not officially signed off on the plan. Weeks later, the USOC shelved the plan, partly to ease tension between the USOC and the IOC leading up to the vote. Chicago also was the only candidate lacking full government financial support of the Games.
Mr. Obama's appearance before the IOC in the run-up to Friday's vote was the first time a sitting president had personally lobbied the IOC in the final stage. Losing the bid won't likely hurt the U.S. in a direct way, but the symbolic damage to its prestige, and that of the White House, might be lasting. The sniping has already started, with Republicans in Congress using the setback to argue that Mr. Obama should better choose his priorities.
"This throws a little cold water on the Obama dream that simply having a fresh face and open-minded rhetoric will change the way the world views America," said presidential historian David Greenberg.
IOC member Guy Drot of France said there was little that Chicago and Mr. Obama could have done to resist the voters' desire to bring the Games to South America. "It should be another beginning for us after" Beijing in 2008, said Mr. Drot. "Then maybe some day we can go to Africa," which hasn't hosted an Olympics.
In the wake of Chicago's defeat, the USOC said it would take a pass on making a bid for the 2018 Winter Games. USOC spokeswoman Lindsey Hogan said the organization doesn't have time to put forth a competitive bid, saying, "Our focus has been with Chicago."
The win for Brazil set off a raucous celebration on Rio's Copacabana beach, where a Carnavalesque atmosphere had reigned since Friday morning. Some 30,000 people gathered to await the naming of the winner. Sergio Soares, who sells coconut water at a beachside stand, said he hoped the victory for Rio will help fix the city's crime problem. "I think this will lead to more money being invested and more police," he said.
At a time when Brazil has become an economic force with newly discovered oil reserves and growing clout in international trade talks, many locals said hosting the Olympics is the icing on the cake. Mr. da Silva, a former union leader who came up from poverty, has surprised many during his two terms in office by governing as a business-friendly centrist. Under his leadership, Brazil has won regard for its fiscal responsibility and garnered investment-grade status from Wall Street ratings agencies.
Winning the Games could mark a kind of watershed. "I think the Olympics is going to present a new portrait of Brazil to the world as a serious, modern country," said Vitoria Saddi, an economist at the Institute of Education and Research, a top business school in S„o Paulo.
After the announcement of the final vote, Mr. da Silva said, "Brazil has moved from being on the level of a second-class country to a first-class country."
Rio overcame concerns about rampant drug-related crime by promising a government-backed budget of $14 billion to prepare for the Olympics, citing its successful hosting of the 2007 Pan Am Games. Olympic organizers were impressed with the public support (85% of residents want the Games), as well as its allure as a lush and beautiful oceanside city.
Chicago was eliminated after the first round of voting when it garnered just 18 of 94 votes, compared with 22 for Tokyo, 26 for Rio and 28 for Madrid. On the second ballot, Rio pulled into the lead with 46 votes, while Madrid received 29 and Tokyo 20.
Chicago's loss was also a blow to Mayor Daley, who had been criticized over the city's pledge to guarantee losses the Games might incur. "I was shocked. I was disappointed. I couldn't believe it," Mr. Daley told the Associated Press.
A huge gasp rose from several thousand people watching the voting on three enormous TV screens at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago as the IOC announced their city had been eliminated. "All the air just went out of the city," said longtime Chicagoan Nancy Newman, 43. "This would have put us on the map. We're always known as the Second City."