(Adds Chicago reaction)
By Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON, Sept 11 U.S. President Barack Obama
is sending his wife Michelle to Copenhagen next month to urge
Olympics organisers to select Chicago to host the 2016 Games.
The White House said Obama informed International Olympic
Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge on Friday he had to stay
in the United States to push his campaign for health reform.
But Obama, an enthusiastic supporter of his home town's
campaign to stage the Games, promised to keep working to support
the bid with his wife and his senior advisor Valerie Jarrett.
Mrs Obama and Jarrett will join U.S. organisers at the IOC
meeting in Copenhagen on Oct. 2, when the host of the 2016
Summer Olympics will be chosen from the four candidate cities --
Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.
"It is with great pride that I will go to Copenhagen to make
the case for the United States to host the 2016 Olympics,"
Michelle Obama said in a statement.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Chicago would offer the
world a fantastic setting for these historic Games and I hope
that the Olympic torch will have the chance to burn brightly in
my hometown," she said.
Mrs Obama was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago,
not far from the suggested locations for the Games.
The race to host the 2016 Olympics is looming as one of the
tightest yet and U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) officials had
made no secret of their belief the president could swing the
vote their way.
With heads of state playing an increasingly pivotal role in
the bidding process, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da
Silva and Spanish King Juan Carlos have already signalled they
will go to Copenhagen while Japan's new prime minister Yukio
Hatoyama is expected to be in Denmark to support Tokyo efforts.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was largely credited with
helping London secure the 2012 Summer Games while the presence
of Russian leader Vladimir Putin was seen as a key reason behind
Sochi's successful bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
"I think we all understand how committed the president is to
the health care plan," said Chicago bid chief Pat Ryan. "I think
it is going to be well understood around the world, certainly to
the IOC membership, that he would love to be there."
Chicago organisers said they do not believe the U.S.
president's absence will have any negative impact on their bid.
Michelle Obama has charmed crowds in the United States and
around the world and her presence will likely offer some of the
spark the Chicago 2016 team is hoping for next month. Obama
often jokes that his wife is the better politician and speaker.
While details of the First Lady's visit have yet to be
finalised, Ryan said he expected Mrs Obama to arrive in the
Danish capital in time to meet IOC members and be part of the
bid's final presentation.
"We are really excited about Michelle Obama coming. The
First Lady of this country is a fantastic person, she has a
global image that is just tremendous," said Ryan.
"Since the beginning of the administration she has been
focusing on health and sport and youth. She is committed to the
young of this country so it all comes together extremely well.
"I'm very impressed with Michelle Obama and always expressed
hope she would be coming to Copenhagen."
Chicago, once considered the front-runner to land the 2016
Games, has stumbled down the homestretch having been dragged
into disputes between the IOC and USOC over revenue-sharing and
attempts to launch an Olympic television network.
(Additional reporting by Steve Keating in Chicago; editing
by Ken Ferris)
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