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Chicago Loses Out On Olympics as Games Head for Rio

October 2, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Despite a high-profile push by President Obama and others, Chicago will not host the 2016 summer games. The Olympic Torch will instead land in Rio de Janeiro. Ray Suarez reports on the story and talks to sports writer Christine Brennan.
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JIM LEHRER: Chicago lost its bid to Rio. Ray Suarez has our story.

JACQUES ROGGE, president, International Olympic Committee: I have the honor to announce that the games of the 31st Olympiad are awarded to the city of Rio de Janeiro.

RAY SUAREZ: Cheers erupted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, today, as the city won the honor of hosting the 2016 Olympic Games. A wave of national pride splashed across the beach in Copacabana.

In the final round of voting by the International Olympic Committee, Rio crushed its competition, Madrid, with a vote of 66 to 32.

2016 will be a first: The Olympic Games have never been held in South America. Brazil’s committee touted that fact as a major selling point.

Madrid and Tokyo were among the world cities disappointed by Brazil’s victory, but the biggest upset was an American one.

JACQUES ROGGE: The city of Chicago, having obtained the least number of votes, will not participate in the next round.

RAY SUAREZ: Some booed and others stood in stunned silence at Daley Plaza in Chicago when word came that the Windy City was eliminated in the first round. Thousands had lined up early this morning hoping for great news.

MEREDITH CLARK, Chicago resident: I’m really proud to be a Chicagoan, and I’m upset that people aren’t going to be able witness that in 2016.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think this happened? Any ideas?

MEREDITH CLARK: I have no idea. It’s complete shock.

RAY SUAREZ: Reporter Eddie Arruza of Chicago Public Television station WTTW was there.

EDDIE ARRUZA, WTTW Chicago: Thousands of supporters turned out to cheer for the city, but what was not anticipated was that Chicago would be eliminated in the very first round. And now there are many questions being asked about what went wrong.

RAY SUAREZ: Chicago’s failure was not for lack of trying. Ads like this one were part of a huge campaign put together to showcase the city’s many charms.

But the highlight of Chicago’s push was a personal effort by President Obama. He flew overnight to join the first lady in Copenhagen today for a last-minute, high-level presentation on behalf of his adopted hometown.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I urge you to choose Chicago. I urge you to choose America. And if you do, if we walk this path together, then I promise you this: The city of Chicago and the United States of America will make the world proud.

MICHELLE OBAMA, First Lady of the United States: I am dreaming of an Olympic and Paralympic Games in Chicago that will light up lives and neighborhoods all across America and all across the world.

RAY SUAREZ: The president got the bad news as he returned to Washington aboard Air Force One. At the White House, he praised Chicago’s efforts to win the games.

BARACK OBAMA: I have no doubt that it was the strongest bid possible, and I’m proud that I was able to come in and help make that case in person. I believe it’s always a worthwhile endeavor to promote and boost the United States of America.

RAY SUAREZ: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, speaking to reporters this afternoon, was grateful and defended President Obama’s support.

RICHARD DALEY, mayor, Chicago: This was not a political gamble; this was not a political adventure. This was a commitment on behalf of the city, on behalf of the people of our city, on behalf of America to try to get the Olympics and Paralympics in 2016.

RAY SUAREZ: After winning in Denmark today, Brazil’s president was ecstatic.

LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA, president, Brazil (through translator): Brazil needed these Olympics. Brazil has always been a great country. The Brazilian people are extraordinary, and they deserve this opportunity.

RAY SUAREZ: But jubilation in Brazil does not reflect the challenges it faces in a long sprint to prepare for the games. Along with stunning beaches and scenic mountains, Rio is plagued by serious crime, pollution, and infrastructure problems, not to mention frequent clashes between drug lords and police. Billions will be spent to ensure the area is ready for the world to arrive in 2016.

After the selection was announced, I spoke to Christine Brennan, who covers the Olympics for USA Today and ABC News.

Well, even the most pessimistic forecasts didn’t have Chicago finishing last, at the bottom of the deck. What happened?

A win for Rio

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, ABC News/USA Today: You know, I think it was a simple case of the International Olympic Committee wanting Rio. And then, in the case of Madrid, the president that they cared more about was not Obama, but Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former president of the IOC. They wanted to give him a going-away gift and have his city, Madrid, at least make it a round or two. And then Tokyo had a fine presentation with a lot more of emotion than would you have expected from Tokyo.

And all of a sudden, Chicago -- solid, strong, big-shouldered -- the Obamas looked flat. It looked -- and it was so early in the game, the first presentation. By the time the IOC voted, the president was already back over the Atlantic. It had been a distant memory what was said by Chicago.

RAY SUAREZ: For all the personal popularity of President and Mrs. Obama, is the world still a little sore at the United States? Did this have more to do with attitudes toward America than toward the first couple?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: You know, I don't know if we can make it that much of a metaphor for U.S. and international relations, as much as just the choice of the day and the moment. And the fact the IOC is as unpredictable and mercurial a group as you will ever find, certainly in sports.

And when you've got the IOC just deciding that it wants to ignore financial concerns in this world of ours today and go with the party in Rio, then the president, you know, could have stood on his head, and I don't think it would have mattered.

I thought it was a risk, a political gamble going in. And I think commentators, especially political commentators in our country, really did a disservice to consumers of news by saying, "Hey, it must be a done deal. Why would Obama go otherwise?" when, in fact, the IOC is so confusing, so unpredictable.

It's the same group that got confused and didn't know the difference between baseball and softball and kicked them both out of the Olympics. These are the guys who fall asleep during the voting. I mean, it's the oldest of the old boys' club, aging, Eurocentric.

I just think they thought, "Thank you, President Obama, for coming. And, you know, nice to see you. Have a good flight home."

Tensions with the Olympic Committee

RAY SUAREZ: For all the strengths or weaknesses of the Chicago bid, is there also an underlying tension between the International Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic Committee that would have made the road for any American bid city a tougher one?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: The U.S. Olympic Committee has had a terrible few months vis-a-vis the IOC in dealing with starting its own television network, which everyone is doing these days in sports, but the worse possible time, and the IOC got furious that the USOC was going off and doing this. USOC had to pull back.

Another huge factor, the U.S. Olympic Committee now has new leadership, completely changed from the people that they had gotten to know for months, Beijing games, whatever. The leadership of the USOC all of a sudden, a whole new group of faces, and in a world where face time matters, the constant revolving door at the U.S. Olympic Committee did not do Chicago any favors.

RAY SUAREZ: When the IOC scored the four finalist cities, Rio finished last of the four in many of the things they measured to check whether a city is ready to host the Olympic Games, so what were they voting for? Were they voting for a dream of Rio rather than a city that's measured as one of the most dangerous in the world?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: There is no doubt that the IOC today voted for the dream, voted with its heart as opposed to voting with its head. Here you've got incredibly difficult economic times around the world. And just this week, Rio had to cancel a World Cup swimming competition that it was supposed to host this month because it ran out of funding.

Now, you would think that that by itself might tell the IOC, "We might have to think about this a minute." On one level, you have to stretch your head and say the IOC said, "Financial concerns, economic global situation, who cares? Let's go party in Rio," combined with the very, very important and probably the number-one selling point for Rio is when they showed that map of the world, and there is Europe with 30 Olympics, winter and summer, and there is North America with 12 Olympics, winter and summer, and then they show South America, zero.

And the IOC is nothing if not a group of dreamers saying, "Hey, we can open up a new continent to the Olympic Games." And I think at the end of the day, that was the biggest consideration for the IOC.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, thanks a lot for talking to us.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: You bet. Thank you.