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  • And the winner is ... evaluators won't say


    05/14/09

    BY LISA DONOVAN Staff Reporter ldonovan@suntimes.com

    International Olympic evaluators have completed tours of the four finalist cities for the 2016 Games, but as the finish line nears, no clear winner has emerged.

    At least not publicly.

    The weeklong tours in each city, beginning with Chicago early last month and ending Friday in Madrid, allowed the 13-member evaluation team to conduct a "technical" assessment of each city's planned sporting venues and athlete housing and the financial backing of the bids.

    "We have been most impressed to find what the city of Madrid could offer the Olympics,'' said Nawal El Moutawakel, head of the International Olympic Committee's evaluation team.

    Experts suggest this refrain -- which she also used to describe the visits to Chicago, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro -- is likely tied to a vow to keep mum about the race until a written assessment is released to the public Sept. 2. That is one month before the full IOC meets in Copenhagen to vote for the winning city.

    Robert Boland, too, says this close-to-the-vest attitude also shows that deciding which city to give the Games to depends on more than just the technical aspects.

    The sports management professor at New York University says that if technical considerations were the only factor, the Games would go to Madrid, which already has 77 percent of the infrastructure for the Games in place.

    But the IOC also considers a city's architectural and natural vistas that would provide enticing television footage. Rio, which is surrounded by mountains, could have a leg up there, he said.

    Of course, there are lucrative television broadcast rights to consider. The IOC receives 55 percent to 60 percent of revenue from American broadcast rights, in which case Chicago can't be ignored, Boland said.

    Here are some snapshots of the visits to the finalist cities:

    • • In Chicago, the bid team -- including Mayor Daley -- emphasized that most of the athletes would be competing at venues within 15 minutes of their housing. Between discussions about how the bid would be financed and heart-tugging video presentation of the city's diversity, the group got to dine with Oprah Winfrey at the Art Institute. But during the visit, thousands of Chicago Police officers rallied around City Hall and chanted "Daley sucks!'' to protest a contract dispute.

    • • In Tokyo, there were no dinners with celebrities, but one official promised that the country -- like the United States trotting out President Obama -- would bring its big guns to Copenhagen during the final pitch for the Games, according to Aroundtherings.com, an Olympic news Web site. Despite congestion, the IOC team toured all but one venue in the city and hopped aboard Yurikamome, the monorail public transit system.

    Officials were forced to try to refute a Reuters story that claimed an IOC poll of Tokyo residents showed only 56 percent were in favor of the Games.

    • • Rio de Janeiro's welcome included Brazilian soccer wonder Pele kicking around the ball with El Moutawakel. The visit was marked by some controversy when the Rio bid team accused a journalist of spying for the Madrid 2016 team. A German press report quoted a Madrid spokesman as admitting "we have journalists advising us" but that "we were not trying to obtain secret information.''

    El Moutawakel acknowledged that Rio's crime problem -- the city earned low marks on safety and security in an early IOC evaluation and has one of the highest murder rates in the world -- was reportedly discussed at length.

    • • In Madrid, which is making its second pitch for the Games in recent years, officials assured the evaluation team that security would be in place and that the Basque separatist militant group ETA would not pose a threat. The group had a chance to catch up with former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch and lunched with Spain's royal family.

    http://www.suntimes.com/sports/olympics/1566172,CST-NWS-oly10.article