COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Chicago’s rivals to stage the 2016 Summer Olympics showed no sign on Tuesday of being fazed by the announcement that President Barack Obama would fly to Copenhagen on Friday to support the U.S. city’s bid.
The Obama factor has been looming large over the 2016 bid process in which Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo are competing for Friday’s decisive vote by the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC has been swayed in the recent past by such leading political figures as Britain’s Tony Blair and Russia strongman Vladimir Putin. Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president ever to attend and address an IOC session.
But his high-profile presence carries with it an inevitably high risk of failure and damaging political fallout from a contest regarded as possibly the closest ever.
It is unlikely that there would have been anyone in any of the rival camps celebrating Monday’s Obama announcement but all were careful not to show concern that Chicago had struck an early and potentially decisive blow.
Tokyo’s bid leader Ichiro Kono went as far as to welcome Obama’s participation after a first news conference in the Danish capital by the Japanese delegation.
“We understand all of the cities have their heads of state,” Kono told Reuters in an interview. “I am not surprised (Obama is attending). It is a good thing for the Olympic movement and it is good for the tough race.”
Japan’s newly elected prime minister Yukio Hatoyama is also due in Copenhagen to back the Tokyo bid.
Rio’s chief Carlos Nuzman declined to say anything about Obama at the opening news conference of the Brazilian team, saying it was unethical to talk of rival cities.
Instead, he praised the continuing support of his country’s president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, who will also be in Copenhagen for Friday’s presentations and vote.
Madrid have kept an unusually low profile with King Juan Carlos and Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero expected to arrive in the Danish capital on Wednesday, according to a spokesman for the bid.
The Spanish delegation was not due to hold an event for the media pack of more than 1,000 journalists until late on Wednesday evening, only 36 hours before the IOC convenes to select the host of the 2016 Games.
Chicago tried hard not to appear jubilant.
Bid leader Patrick Ryan told a news conference: ”It obviously changes many things. The President is coming to the city, people are very excited that he’s coming and that Michelle is coming. We don’t know, nobody knows, if it impacts the race.
“The President... has worked himself free to come over and be part of the presentation and go on back to his other responsibilities. We respect that. We’re so thankful. We’re not comparing this to Tony Blair or Vladimir Putin. We don’t want to get into the politics. This is about sport. It’s not about the influence of one individual.”
Obama will fly into Copenhagen just before the IOC session, to be attended by up to 115 members, starting at the Bella Convention Center at 0630 GMT.
He will join First Lady Michelle Obama, due in Copenhagen on Wednesday to take part in the Chicago lobbying effort, and go straight before the IOC. Both Obamas will address the session.
Chicago will be the first of the four cities to make a 70-minute presentation. Tokyo follows, then Rio de Janeiro with Madrid last to go.
After up to three rounds of voting, the decision will be announced in a ceremony starting at 1630 GMT.
By then Obama will have flown out of Copenhagen.
Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann and Kevin Fylan in Copenhagen. Editing by Ed Osmond. To query or comment on this story email email@example.com