Did anti-Americanism kill Chicago’s Olympic bid?

Some blame former president Bush. Rush Limbaugh says it's Obama's fault. But IOC President Rogge’s dream of a South American Olympic games is a more likely reason.

Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge announces Rio de Janeiro as the winning city bid for the 2016 Olympic Games in Copenhagen on Friday.

Some Americans looking for answers to the IOC’s rejection of President Obama’s plea for Chicago as the 2016 Olympics host city are pinpointing former President Bush as the culprit.

As backbencher Brazil partied and supposed frontrunner America sulked, some Olympic athletes and the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the former administration’s unpopular actions in Iraq – leading in some global quarters to caricatures of a cowboy country run from a ranch in Texas – played into the first-round ouster of the Windy City from Olympic contention.

"I'm still in a state of shock. … Maybe there is some hangover from politics, from the last eight years," three-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Ambrose "Rowdy" Gaines told AFP.

The idea that the President Obama, whose international poll numbers have eased some negative internationalist views of America, failed to sway the IOC’s international body only proved, to some, a silent bias against the US -- especially since Chicago and Tokyo were considered front-runners.

Kent Redfield, political science professor at University of Illinois-Springfield, told USA Today that "Obama is personally very popular internationally, but the U.S. as a country is still suffering the fallout of eight years of the cowboy foreign policy under Bush.”

Even some who are close to the IOC agreed. “They don’t like us at all,” former IOC adviser Bill Mallon said about the Olympic committee, according to Politico.

In some ways, blaming Bush is an understandable reaction from disappointed Americans, and especially Chicagoans, many who saw their “A team” -- including Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and TV hostess Oprah Winfrey -- falter hard in Copenhagen.

Conservative radio talkmeister Rush Limbaugh argued that the blame shouldn't be put on Bush, but on President Obama for fueling subliminal bias toward the United States.

“There may be some love for him, but there certainly is no respect for him,” Limbaugh said. “He doesn’t understand how delighted the world is to make him look foolish in order to take a swipe at our country.”

There are, of course, other possible reasons to dismiss America’s bid, experts say. (The IOC, for one, holds a secret vote, and tends to keep mum about its decisions.)

Both the Salt Lake City and Atlanta Olympics were dogged by charges of corruption in the bidding process. New York’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics also failed miserably.

What’s more, Chicago’s reputation as a pay-to-play political city may have also been off-putting to IOC members looking for a “clean” Olympics, especially given proposed financing that some critics called “iffy.” The recent gang-related beating death of an honors student in Chicago, Mr. Jackson said, may have also played a role in sullying the city’s pitch as a warm, diverse city.

A less conspiratorial scenario is simply that the IOC had seen economic and social progress in South America which deserved a reward with a major Olympics -- the continent’s first.

The IOC "definitely would love to see the continents that have not yet organized the Games like Africa or Latin America do that in the future,” IOC President Jacques Rogge told the Beijing 2008 website, in an August 2007 interview. “I cannot tell you exactly when, but I will see it in my life."


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