Copenhagen: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) prepared to vote to choose the host of the 2016 Olympics on Friday with most observers predicting a close contest between Chicago and Rio de Janeiro.
After the two cities, and their rivals Madrid and Tokyo, each made a 60-minute appeal to IOC members at Copenhagen’s Bella Convention Centre, the contributions of U.S. President Barack Obama for Chicago and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for Rio were weighing heavily on the voters.
Obama took a huge gamble in flying overnight to the Danish capital to make a personal appeal to the IOC on behalf of the city he calls home.
Should Chicago fail, the implications for his political reputation would be considerable.
His eloquent speech to the 95 members eligible to vote in the first round, following an emotional address by first lady Michelle Obama, were the cornerstone of the Chicago presentation.
President Lula himself raised the emotional stakes in his direct appeal to the IOC to stop favouring Europe, North America and Asia and take the Games to South America for the first time.
Voting starts at 1510 GMT with the probability that it will go to three rounds before the decision is announced by IOC President Jacques Rogge in a ceremony starting at 1630 GMT.
None of the four candidate cities is expected to get a clear overall majority in the first round of voting. The city with the fewest votes would drop out and a second round of the ballot would be held.
Most observers expect this would not be decisive either and that it would go to a third and final round with the two cities left in contention.
Though Madrid and Tokyo have both presented attractive bids, few people are betting on anything other than a Chicago-Rio run-off in the final round -- and most observers are expecting a close vote even then.
Obama’s appearance, the first by a sitting U.S. President at an IOC session, provoked huge interest from IOC members, even though they are used to being courted by major political figures.
Obama told the IOC: “I’ve come here today to urge you to choose Chicago for the same reason I chose Chicago nearly twenty-five years ago, the reason I fell in love with the city I still call home.”
“And it’s not only because it’s where I met the woman you just heard from, though after getting to know her this week I’m sure you will all agree that she’s a pretty big selling point for the city.”
The first lady had been in the Danish capital for two days to lobby IOC members for their votes. She made her own appeal, citing her early Olympic memories of sitting on her late father’s knee to watch the exploits of gymnasts Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci and athlete Carl Lewis.
President Lula was not to be outdone. He made an impassioned pitch for the Games to be awarded to both Brazil and South America for the first time.
“This is a continent that has never held the Games,” he said. “It is time to address this imbalance. The opportunity is now to extend the Games to a new continent. It’s an opportunity for an Olympics in a tropical country for the first time, to feel the warmth of our people, the exuberance of our culture and the sensation of our joy.”
On an emotional day, former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, now 89, pulled at the heart-strings on behalf of Madrid. “I know I am very near the end of my days,” he said. “May I ask you to consider granting my country the honour and also the duty to organise the games in 2016?”
Japan’s newly elected prime minister Yukio Hatoyama also flew in to urge a vote for Tokyo.