Copenhagen: Rio de Janeiro and Chicago both made impassioned appeals to the International Olympic Committee to be chosen later Friday as host of the 2016 Olympics, with President Barack Obama and his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, pitting their star power against each other.
Rio urged the IOC’s members to be bold by taking the games to South America for the first time, arguing that the continent offers a new frontier for the Olympic movement and that the games should not be the preserve of rich, developed countries.
“It is a time to address this imbalance,” Silva said. “It is time to light the Olympic cauldron in a tropical country.”
Chicago was no less forceful. Obama used both his stature as a statesman and his personal life story for impact. He argued that a Chicago games would reaffirm the “fundamental truth” that the United States is a multicultural, welcoming nation and show “how we are linked to the world.”
The presentations that all four cities were making represented the finishing line after years of hard work, lobbying, planning and hopes. They had 45 minutes and follow-up questions to sway and wow undecided IOC members, of which there were many after a long, close and at times acrimonious race.
Chicago went first, with videos and speeches — capped by Obama’s plea. A central theme of the presentation was the city’s people — none of them more famous than Obama and his wife Michelle, who both flew to Copenhagen — in the US leader’s case for less than five hours.
With the IOC’s members sitting silently before him, Obama explained how his family moved around a lot when he was a kid and “I never really had roots.”
But in Chicago, he said, “I finally found a home.”
“Chicago is a city where the practical and the inspirational exist in harmony,” Obama said.
Tokyo was next, presenting itself as the best city for the athletes, safe and environmentally pioneering.
“Tokyo will show the world how a major metropolis can flourish without detriment to the environment,” Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said.
Rio played up the wow factor of its fabulous scenery, with computer-generated bird’s eye images of how venues would be spread across the city, with sailing in the shadow of Sugar Loaf mountain and volleyball on Copacabana beach. The governor of the central bank said Brazil’s economic vibrancy should reassure IOC members, and the head of Rio state played down concerns over security.
But Rio’s biggest selling point was that the IOC could ignore South America no longer.
“When you push the button today, you have the chance to inspire a new continent, make Olympic history,” said Rio bid president Carlos Nuzman, who is also an IOC member. “Vote Rio, and we offer a gateway to 180 million passionate young people in South America.”
An uncomfortable moment for Chicago came when an IOC member from Pakistan, Syed Shahid Ali, noted that going through US customs can be harrowing for foreigners.
Obama responded that he wanted a Chicago games to offer “a reminder that America at its best is open to the world.”
The 103 members who attended the IOC meeting start voting electronically in a secret ballot at 5:10 pm (1510 GMT). The vote will take up to 30 minutes. Cities will be eliminated one-by-one until one secures a majority.
The high drama will come when IOC president Jacques Rogge announces the name of the winner about an hour later, breaking open a sealed envelope and declaring which city has been awarded the games of the 31st Olympiad.
The winner gets huge prestige and billions of dollars in potential economic benefits, the losers just painful thoughts of what might have been.
Rogge doesn’t vote and, as long as their cities haven’t been eliminated, neither will members from Brazil, the United States, Spain and Japan. Three other members did not attend the session.
That left 95 voters in the first round, with more in subsequent rounds. In the event of a two-city tie in the early rounds, a runoff is held between the cities. If there is a tie in the final round, Rogge can vote or ask the IOC executive board to break the deadlock.
Ahead of the vote, only Tokyo seemed to have fallen out of the running. But otherwise, it was still too close to call between the beaches and bossa nova of Rio, the bustle and Lake Michigan waterfront of Chicago or the European elegance of Madrid. Everyone had reason to be hopeful, none reason to be sure.
They all delivered a hard sell.
The US first lady tugged at IOC members’ heart strings by talking during Chicago’s presentation about her late father, who had multiple sclerosis. She recounted sitting on his lap, watching Olympians such as Carl Lewis and Nadia Comaneci compete, and how her father “taught me how to throw a ball and a mean right hook.”
“My dad would have been so proud to witness these games in Chicago,” she said.
During voting, as cities go out, loyalties will shift. That is where the contest will be won or lost. If Tokyo goes out first, will its supporters swing behind Rio, Madrid or Chicago and by how much for each? And could Madrid stun front-runners Chicago and Rio in the second round, knocking one of them out, with its seemingly solid core of backers?
The variables are such that any city could conceivably win or lose. A few votes either way could decide it. That is especially true this time, with all four cities seen as generally capable of holding the games. Some IOC veterans say there has been no closer contest in recent memory.
To prevent bribery, IOC members aren’t allowed to visit the bidding cities — so they’ll be deciding instead based on what they’ve been told and, for some, their gut instincts, their emotions and personal interests.