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  • - Olympic sites up for grabs; Let the schmoozing begin


    September 30, 2009 By JOHN JEANSONNE

    Handicapping an Olympic host city vote, such as the one that will play out in Copenhagen Friday and may or may not award the 2016 Summer Games to Chicago, is like knocking on a locked, barricaded door. The process is beyond secret, veering toward a vaguely cartoonish cloak-and-dagger tale, with all manner of false leads and conspiracy theories.

    Even in hindsight, no one is quite sure who votes for whom, or why. In the wake of the last Summer Olympics site selection, when London upset Paris to land the 2012 Games, one theory put forth was that French president Jacques Chirac’s snide remarks about British food had cost his capital the victory.

    It went like this: Chirac was quoted in a French newspaper, days before the July, 2005 International Olympic Committee vote staged in Singapore, saying of the Brits, “One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad ... After Finland, [Great Britain] is the country with the worst food. The only thing they have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease.”

    London won by four votes, 54-50. But the logic that any of the eight Scandanavian members of the IOC, offended on behalf of the Finns as well as the Brits, had cast ballots for London could not be confirmed; the voters themselves kept their choices secret. One member of the Paris delegation, San Antonio Spurs guard (and French native) Tony Parker, simply pointed to Anglo-Saxon prejudice in the voting body.

    Plenty was then made of how then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair had swung the election in London’s favor by traveling to Singapore to personally lobby IOC members. (Just as Russia’s then-President Vladimir Putin went to the Guatemala vote in 2007 and came back with the 2014 Winter Olympics for Sochi, Russia, over favored Salzburg, Austria.) But the hole in that reasoning was that Chirac, too, had trekked to Singapore to be part of the (losing) Paris presentation.

    That was the election, of course, in which New York City, after spending roughly $100 million on its Olympic bid process, was dismissed in an earlier round of voting — possibly because Gotham’s West Side stadium plan had fallen apart a month earlier, or maybe because some IOC members could not abide Bush administration foreign policy.

    Then again, it could have been that the IOC was a bit bored with the frequency of U.S.-based Olympics, winter and summer, in a relatively short period — 1980 in Lake Placid, 1984 in Los Angeles, 1996 in Atlanta, 2002 in Salt Lake City. The post-game analysis was no different from the pre-game predictions, perfectly summarized in Canadian IOC member Dick Pound’s 2004 book, “Inside the Olympics,” when he wrote that the results of host-city elections "are often astonishing, and have been known to defy subsequent analysis."

    This has not stopped Chicago — in its current campaign against Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid — from following the template used in recent elections by candidate cities: Schmooze the IOC members with politicians and celebrities and former Olympic athletes in a last-minute attempt to sway crucial swing voters.

    In 2005, New York brought Muhammad Ali, speechless as he was, to appear at the voting session; Chicago is trotting out Oprah Winfrey. New York flew then-New York senator Hillary Clinton and mayor Michael Bloomberg halfway around the world to solicit votes; Chicago will have a couple of cabinet members and, via an 11th-hour decision, Barack Obama himself joining First Lady Michelle Obama.

    * National Basketball Association National Basketball Association
    * Richard Jefferson
    * Bruce Bowen Bruce Bowen
    * Tony Parker Tony Parker
    * Tim Duncan

    With the heads of state from Brazil, Japan and Spain already committed to a Copenhagen presence, Obama’s belated intention to parachute into the Danish capital, making him the first U.S. President to campaign in person at an Olympic vote, prompted several bookmakers to quickly declare Chicago the favorite, edging it ahead of widespread sentiment to pick Rio and place the Games in South America for the first time. Other prominent chroniclers of Olympic elections — and Around the Rings — both continue to lean slightly toward Rio. (Tokyo and Madrid never have shaken the darkhorse role.)

    In 2005, the White House cited the long trip, July 4 conflicts (the vote was on July 5), security concerns and then-President George W. Bush’s July 6 birthday as reasons the Commander-in-Chief did not endorse the New York bid in person. Unlike Obama, though, Bush did not appear to be particularly welcome among IOC members — the majority of them from Europe — in the first place.

    Hillary Clinton, in fact, was asked during a pre-vote press conference whether Bush presented a roadblock to the city’s chances; before she could answer, she was cut off by Bloomberg, who insisted the process was not political.

    Of course, it is. With just as many agendas, just as much horse trading, just as many IOC members motivated by money as by public service. With the IOC members, though — a crazy-quilt collection of doctors, lawyers, business executives and military officers, with the odd prince and princess thrown in — there are no polls, exit or otherwise. On Friday, the final 2016 decision likely will surprise them as much as anyone.