Obama Jets In for Olympic Vote Showdown

By Patrick Goodenough | October 2, 2009 | 2:08 AM EDT

A building in Chicago promotes the city’s bid for the 2016 Olympic Games behind the Buckingham Fountain at Grant Park on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Sometime between 12:30 and 1 p.m. EDT on Friday, the world will know which city will host the 2016 summer Olympic Games – and whether President Obama’s risky, and controversial, decision to fly to Copenhagen to lend his weight to Chicago’s bid has paid off.

In what some Olympic watchers say is the most hard-to-call race in years, the Windy City is vying against three contenders viewed as highly capable of hosting the huge sporting event, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo.

Recent contests have either included cities that had hosted the games not too many years earlier (for instance, Moscow hosted in 1980 but entered the race for the 2012 games, won ultimately by London); or cities not seriously considered capable of doing the job (Istanbul tried for the 2000, 2004 and 2008 games, but fared poorly in the first, and dropped out early in the second and third attempts. The events went to Sydney, Athens and Beijing respectively.)

Obama’s five-hour flying visit to the Danish capital is the first time an American president has gone to an International Olympic Committee (IOC) voting ceremony to promote a city’s bid, and has drawn flak at home from critics who have questioned the need for and cost of the exercise.

Obama, who joins first lady Michelle Obama and talk show host Oprah Winfrey in the effort, faces competition for the limelight from Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Although his wife has been in Copenhagen since Wednesday, arriving at the IOC event at the eleventh hour could be risky for the president, if recent history is any guide.

In 2005, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair spent several days lobbying IOC members in Singapore in support of London’s bid for 2012. The then French President Jacques Chirac flew in at the last moment to promote Paris.

Although many considered the French capital the favorite, London won. It was the third time Paris had failed in three attempts since 1992 to host the games.

First lady Michelle Obama arrives for the opening of an IOC session in Copenhagen on Thursday, the day before the 2016 games host city will be selected. (AP Photo)

This time, each of the four candidate cities has presented what the IOC judges to be strong bids.

Pundits say non-technical factors may also play into the voting decision:

-- South America has never hosted the Olympics, so Rio could be the sentimental choice for some IOC members. On the other hand, there has also never been an African Olympics, yet Cape Town lost its bid to host the 2004 games, despite Nelson Mandela's star power.
-- Tokyo’s bid may be weakened by the fact that the most recent games, Beijing 2008, were held in the region. Tokyo has also hosted before, in 1964.
-- Madrid’s chances could be affected by the fact that another European city will host the 2012 games; the IOC has not chosen two cities on the same continent for consecutive games in more than half a century.
-- Although the U.S. has not hosted a summer games since Atlanta 1996, the country has hosted more events than any other – four summer and four winter games.

Friday’s vote will take place after each city had made a 45-minute presentation, followed by a question and answer session.

The members will vote by secret ballot, with the lowest-scoring city dropping out each round, until one candidate obtains a simple majority.

One hundred and four OIC members will vote, although seven of them, who come from the U.S., Brazil, Spain and Japan, will not be eligible to vote in the first round. (They may vote in subsequent rounds if their city is eliminated.)

In the unlikely event of a final-round tie, IOC President Jacques Rogge – who will not vote otherwise – may cast the deciding vote, or defer to the IOC’s executive board.