(ATR) As the U.S. prepares for a possible new Olympic bid, will it make a difference whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney wins the election for U.S. president next week?
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney share a laugh prior to their final debate. (Getty Images)
The White House will likely be one of the first stops for the U.S. Olympic Committee if it decides to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. With the IOC vote coming in 2017, the real work for a new bid will have to be underway by 2014, midway through the presidential term of either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
After the ignominious rejection of Chicago for the 2016 Games, despite President Obama’s personal appeal to the IOC, a re-elected Obama may still harbor memories of the stinging rebuke the IOC delivered at the 2009 IOC Session in Copenhagen. Might he be less than enthusiastic about a new U.S. bid as a result?
Obama can take some solace that the IOC rejection of Chicago in the first round was aimed at the USOC, not at him, according to a senior IOC member, speaking on background to Around the Rings
President Obama and First Lady Michelle arrive in Copenhagen for the 2009 IOC Session. (Getty Images)
“Obama was well received in Copenhagen. His speech was modest, but his wife was a success. The problem for Chicago was the USOC,” he says, referring to the revenue sharing agreement between the IOC and USOC that provoked IOC disdain in that 2009 vote.
A new deal was signed in May that cleared the way for the USOC to consider launching a new bid. Utah businessman and Romney loyalist Fraser Bullock was a member of the USOC team that negotiated the new agreement, which he says “sets a new tone between the USOC and IOC”.
Bullock was chief operating officer for Salt Lake City 2002, Romney’s right hand, and now a key backer for the presidential campaign. Bullock is also leading efforts to bring the 2026 Winter Games back to Salt Lake City.
“I think Mitt would be a passionate, believable and recognizable figure to meet with the IOC,” says Bullock.
Fraser Bullock flanks Mitt Romney at a 10th anniversary reception in Salt Lake City last February. (ATR)
Romney has become Mr. Olympics among U.S. politicians. He is the white knight who rode into Salt Lake City to lead the 2002 Olympics out of the deep funk wrought by the IOC vote-buying scandal. Romney touts with regularity his experience cleaning things up in Salt Lake City, including mentions in the final presidential debates. If elected, Romney will be the first CEO of an Olympic organizing committee to become head of state.
And he’s become a regular at the Games, invited in his status as an OCOG chief. Romney has attended every Olympics since Sydney; Obama has yet to go to a Games.
But while he may have helped save the 2002 Winter Olympics, Romney may still not be an IOC favorite. He often reminded that the IOC bore a share of the blame for Salt Lake City’s mess.
Mitt Romney, pictured here with IOC president Jacques Rogge at Salt Lake City's ski jump venue in 2001, is a familiar face for the 65 current IOC members elected prior to 2002. (ATR)
Romney did not score points when he showed up in London on the eve of the Olympics, expressing concerns for security at the 2012 Games. Besides a lambasting in the British press, the Obama campaign lampooned Romney’s London gaffes in a website video.
But does it make a difference who will be president? Not according to senior U.S. IOC member Anita DeFrantz – also a member of the USOC working group studying what to do about a new bid.
“Each bid needs the support of the White house. And for every bid that I know of, from 1976 on, the White House has been informed and the President has been involved,” she tells ATR
“In my opinion the respect for the office of the head of state makes it unnecessary to compare what person holds the office. Each bid is unique so the only question is, do you have support of the national government?” says DeFrantz.
IOC member Alex Gilady of Israel says it’s not up to the President of the U.S. to secure a new bid.
“There is no connection. A good bid carries itself,” he notes.
Mitt Romney and wife Ann at the opening ceremony of London 2012. (Getty Images)
Predictably, however, backers of Romney see the former Salt Lake City chief as the best person to put in the White House to support a new U.S. bid.
“I really believe that it’s about relationships with a bid and Mitt has those IOC relationships,” former USOC president Bill Hybl tells ATR
. Hybl, once a Republican member of Congress, has contributed to the Romney campaign.
So has ex-USOC secretary general Harvey Schiller, who tells ATR
that he believes Romney is better for a new U.S. bid. And even if Romney fails to win election, Schiller says the former SLOC chief can still be a “potent force” for a U.S. bid.
Schiller isn’t selling short the appeal Obama may offer the IOC. He believes the President is liked by the IOC. He says the President “deserves credit for going to Copenhagen, thinking he could make a difference”.
It should be noted that if re-elected, Obama will end his White House tenure in 2016, a year before the IOC vote for 2024. But if Romney is elected next week, he’ll be in line for a second term that would include the IOC Session in 2017 when that vote takes place.
"Fan in Chief" Barack Obama with First Lady Michelle Obama by his side as U.S. Olympians and Paralympians visit the White House last month. (ATR/Panasonic Lumix)
Neither Obama nor Romney has spoken out on a new U.S. bid during the campaign; it is to be fair, a non-existent issue. First the USOC must decide whether to bid for Summer 2024 and then find a suitable candidate city.
But if Obama wins, why not try again to win the Games for his hometown of Chicago in 2024? And if Romney wins, the obvious question is why not try for a 2026 Winter Games in Salt Lake City? While the search for a candidate city could be the most political part of the process, there’s no history of White House involvement in choosing U.S. bid cities.
Presumably the USOC will navigate that decision on its own, coming up with a city that will deserve the backing of the President, whoever that is, whichever Games – summer or winter.
Paul George, who was a USOC vice president in the 1990s and served on IOC commissions for the Turin Olympics, says he believes the intention of the USOC to forge a national bid will be a good approach – but needs more than White House support.
“The idea of a national bid makes sense, such that you have Congress behind it, the President behind it, the federal government behind it. It’s such a major undertaking,” he says.
President Obama starts a receiving line for Olympians and Paralympians during their September visit to the White House. (ATR/Panasonic Lumix)
Obama or Romney? The polls point to a close finish Nov. 6.
“The momentum is clearly in Mitt’s direction,” the partisan Bullock assures.
“I think he’ll be the next President.”
Reported by Ed Hula
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