COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - The Olympic fiasco arising from U.S. President Barack Obama’s failed promotion of Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Games should be avoided by keeping heads of state away from the process, a U.S. delegate said on Sunday.
Anita DeFrantz, one of two International Olympic Committee members from the U.S. said she was still in shock at Friday’s IOC vote which awarded the Games to Rio de Janeiro while Chicago finished fourth and last on just 18 votes - despite speeches in Copenhagen by Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
Rio also enjoyed head of state support in the Danish capital from President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Madrid had King Juan Carlos of Spain on its team and Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatayama was backing Tokyo in person.
“I think it’s (visits from heads of state and political leaders) getting ridiculous. We should go back to the videos,” DeFrantz told Reuters.
“They (Barack and Michelle Obama) won and Chicago lost. They were clearly the most popular people there but it was not a contest of most popular heads of state, as you know.”
Other IOC members said expectations that visits, like that made by the Obamas, could influence the vote were exaggerated.
“It is not a vote between heads of state,” IOC Executive Board member Ser Miang Ng of Singapore told Reuters. “It was a wonderful gesture (for Obama to come) and the President has a lot of respect from all the members. You could see how popular he is by how many members shook his hand and took pictures.”
“Many of us understand that giving us his time shows great support for the Olympic movement. By coming he gave a big endorsement but maybe it was not the time for Chicago. Every city has its time.”
Another Executive Board member Richard Carrion of Puerto Rica said: “I think we are giving too much importance to the head of state visits. I think it was more the strength of the Rio bid.”
Heads of state and political leaders have increasingly attending IOC sessions in recent years to exert influence in favor of their particular city’s bid.
Then British Prime Minister Tony Blair helped London win the 2012 Games in 2005 and Russia’s Vladimir Putin was crucial to getting the 2014 Winter Games for Sochi.
Carrion said even Blair’s influence had probably been exaggerated.
“There is this story that Tony Blair won it for London,” he said. “We are very happy to see the heads of state. It does imply a certain support but I would not give it that much importance.
“It would be a very bad comment on our own process though if it could be swayed by heads of state.”
Obama’s failure to influence the final outcome put him in good company. Nelson Mandela went to the 1997 IOC session in Lausanne to support Cape Town but the South African city finished a long way behind Athens in the bid for the 2004 Games.
Editing by Paul Radford