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Obama will lobby for Chicago 2016 bid at Olympic vote

President Obama said Monday he will travel to the IOC meeting in Copenhagen on Oct. 2 to support the Chicago 2016 bid.

By Staff writer / September 28, 2009

In this photo taken on Sept. 21, a tour boat passes under a 2016 Olympic banner spanning the Michigan Ave. bridge in Chicago, one of four sites being considered for the 2106 Games.

Kiichiro Sato/AP

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President Obama and the organizers of the Chicago 2016 bid for the Summer Olympic Games announced that Mr. Obama will, after all, attend the Oct. 2 meeting of the International Olympic Committee at which the 2016 host city will be chosen.

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The announcement is a tremendous boost for the Chicago bid, perhaps saving it from what otherwise could have been likely failure.

The heads of state for the other three bid cities – Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, and Tokyo – had all announced their plans to be in Copenhagen for the Oct. 2 vote.

As a result, Obama’s initial decision not to attend could have been fatal for Chicago’s chances. It is likely that the IOC would not have looked favorably on Obama refusing to go the extra mile for a bid from his hometown, regardless of his hectic healthcare reform schedule in Washington.

Indeed, the potentially decisive role that heads of state can play in Olympic bids was underlined four years ago, when experts suggested Paris was a shoo-in as host city for the 2012 Summer Games.

The day before the vote, French President Jacques Chirac was mocking the competition, saying “the only worse food than British food is Finnish” and “the only thing the British have done for Europe's agriculture is mad cow disease.” Meanwhile, British Prime Minister was at the IOC meeting in Singapore lobbying the IOC heavily on London’s behalf.

The combination of the two events turned the bidding in London’s favor. Mr. Blair’s lobbying effort was so aggressive, in fact, that French organizers complained to the IOC, saying it was illegal. The charges were dismissed.

This will be the first time that a US president has gone to the IOC vote. But London 2012 established a new bar for bid cities, and Obama's initial unwillingness to commit to those obligations was a great concern to Chicago 2016 organizers.

At a press summit earlier this month, they made it clear that they were doing everything in their power to persuade Obama to go, but that the decision was ultimately his.

"We could not be more pleased to welcome President Barack Obama to our delegation for the IOC selection of the host city for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” the US Olympic Committee said in a statement.

Obama’s decision leaves Chicago well placed for the Oct. 2 vote. One of the top analysts of Olympic bids rates Chicago as the second favorite to win the IOC vote, just behind Rio.

In his Olympic Bid Power Index, Ed Hula of Around the Rings gives Rio 84 points compared with Chicago’s 83. Madrid and Tokyo tie at 80.

"Rio has been able to deliver an emotional edge to its appeal that the other bids haven't matched," said Mr. Hula in a press release. "Chicago slips to second from the June index, but still scores three points higher, helped by the addition of financial guarantees and government support.”

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