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Chicago may lead for 2016 Olympics in tight race

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago may lead in the race to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, but history has shown the voting can be unpredictable and the other cities in the running cannot be counted out.

An undated handout rendering shows the Chicago Spire (2nd L). The planned 150-story Chicago Spire would be 2,000 feet tall (610 m) if it gets built atop its completed foundation, ranking the tower the tallest in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth-tallest among the world's planned skyscrapers. REUTERS/Courtesy of Shelbourne Deveopment/Handout

With 13 International Olympic Committee delegates due to tour Chicago on April 2-8, the U.S. city is working to build on advantages that include the backing of President Barack Obama -- who still owns a house in the city -- and past successful U.S. games, analysts who follow the Olympics said on Tuesday.

After Chicago, IOC delegates will visit the other bidders: Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. The jockeying will continue until the final vote in Copenhagen on October 2.

“There is no bid that has a greater chance than Chicago, but there are many ways that Chicago may not be selected,” said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago sports consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd.

Analysts said London won the bidding for the 2012 games over favored Paris, while underdog Sochi, Russia, was awarded the 2014 Winter Olympics. Both cities’ bids were helped when their respective leaders, Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin, showed up at the final vote to lobby the delegates.

Similarly, Obama could be “the X factor” if he goes to Denmark in the fall, analysts said.

“If Barack Obama shows up, it could turn the tide,” said Kelly Crabb, an attorney whose firm was international counsel for the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee. “But I don’t know. Nobody has a crystal ball.”

Other factors favoring Chicago: the last U.S. games were in 1996 in Atlanta and the United States is the world’s biggest media market, analysts said.

“As important as it is to rotate the Olympics around the world, it’s also vitally important for the continuation of the Olympic movement to have the Summer Olympics in the United States at least every 20 years or so,” Ganis said.

Working against the U.S. city is its lower level of financial guarantees compared with the other three bids, all of which include assurances that any cost overruns will be covered. The city of Chicago and the state of Illinois combined have pledged $750 million against any operating deficits.

IOC chief Jacques Rogge seemed to dismiss that worry last week when he said he was sure Chicago would be able to deliver with a strong guarantee, but analysts said delegates could still vote against Chicago.

“The IOC has become much more insistent in the past 10 years about governments providing a guarantee for the games,” said Ed Hula, editor of, a website that covers the business of the Olympics. Nevertheless, he currently rates Chicago a slight favorite.

Analysts said those concerns could be eased by the past financial success of U.S.-staged Olympic games.

At a presentation last week in Denver by the four cities, Chicago officials did not address the guarantee issue, while the other three groups made sure to underline their governments’ commitments.

Another factor is an IOC desire for the U.S. Olympic Committee to share more of its share of the revenue generated by the Olympics, analysts said. While a framework of a deal was reached last week, that issue could still rankle some IOC delegates.

The IOC recognizes the potential value of a Chicago Olympics, however, as it has delayed asking for bids for the 2016 broadcast rights until after the city selection, analysts said. A Chicago victory would likely result in more bidders and a more lucrative deal.

Several analysts see Tokyo as the main threat because the Beijing Olympics last summer proved TV ratings for events in Asia could be huge despite the time difference, while Rio officials stress that the Olympics have never been held in South America.

In the end, a final decision by the 100 or so IOC delegates likely to vote in the initial rounds will be also be made partly based on emotion as all four cities offer strong bids, analysts said.

“After all these years, I know not to bet on these bids,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a professor of sports management at George Washington University in Washington. “There really is no formula and you can’t get inside people’s minds.”

Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Phil Berlowitz