/ 5 May 2009

‘Obama factor’ might give Chicago Olympic edge

Spain’s International Olympic Committee (IOC) representative Juan Antonio Samaranch Junior thinks US President Barack Obama has the chance to get the 2016 Olympics for his home city, Chicago, thereby eliminating rivals Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.

However, Samaranch — the son of the former president of the IOC of the same name — warned in an interview with German Press Agency dpa in Madrid that the popular US leader will need more than his proven charisma and skills as a public speaker to make that happen.

”Let’s see what Obama says. If he comes and says: ‘I, as president of the United States, will make the federal government, with all the power and strength of the United States, guarantee that everything will be in place and that the athletes will be fine’, well …,” said a resigned Samaranch.

However, he warned that things will not be easy in the race to host the 2016 Games.

”Let us not kid ourselves,” he said. ”[Tony] Blair and [Vladimir] Putin, who are the examples people are using, came, said hello, had a photo taken … but they sent messages that were brutal.”

”Blair said: ‘We are going to finance this, my government is providing the financial guarantees, I am going to nominate an Olympic Affairs minister, and the British government guarantees that these Games are going to be a success’,” Samaranch explained.

”Putin said all that and much more: ‘I am going to provide $20-billion to finance infrastructure, and my deputy prime minister is going to be responsible for everything to do with the Games’.”

By mentioning the former leaders of Britain and Russia and linking them to the success of the bids for London 2012 and Sochi 2014, Samaranch made it clear that he believes it will take even Obama more than a photo and a couple of handshakes to get Chicago the Olympics.

At the IOC Assembly in Copenhagen on October 2 — in the presence of Obama but also of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Spain’s King Juan Carlos among others — the 115 members of the committee will only be really moved by clear support for the bid, complete with full state backing and plenty of cash.

”It is one thing to be impressed and to be very excited about greeting the president of the United States, and it is another thing to vote for Chicago because you had coffee with the US president,” Samaranch noted.

The only Spaniard in the IOC — and the son of the man who transformed the institution during his 21 years in office — was very clear.

”If they call me to ask whether I want to have coffee with President Obama, I will go gladly, and I will take a camera with me so I can have my picture taken with him. He is an incredible man, the personality of the moment, the president of the United States.

We IOC members are impressionable human beings, like everyone else.”

From Monday an IOC evaluating commission is visiting Madrid to study the city’s bid like those of Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.

Samaranch, 49, who worked in New York as a financial analyst in his twenties, admires the United States, but thinks it will take a lot more than that to see the Chicago Olympics.

”If [Obama] on the other hand says: ‘Chicago is my home, it’s wonderful, I love it, but I will not contribute a dime for this and it will be financed privately,’ then that’s something else,” the IOC member said.

”I will then have my picture with Obama and I’ll look at it everyday for seven years en route to the Madrid 2016 Olympics,” he said with a smile.

As one would expect, Samaranch is passionate about the Spanish capital’s bid and he finds good arguments for it at a time of severe global economic crisis.

”With the world as it is today, if the decision were up to a board of directors they would vote for Madrid in one minute,” he said confidently.

”Today, the most sensible choice is Madrid. Because of the infrastructure that is already built, because of the bid, because of the experience, because of the way people live sport. It is very easy to organise,” he explained.

For him, the argument that Madrid would be the third European city to host the Summer Olympics in the last four editions of the Games is irrelevant.

”If you want a rotation and you want to do truly universal Games, what you have to do after an Asian edition of the Games in the Chinese culture, of an edition in London in Anglo-Saxon culture, is a Latin edition of the Games.”

”In Spanish or Portuguese, I do not want to monopolise the argument. Chicago would be a replay of London, it would be the same culture, the same heritage, the same language, the same lifestyle.” — Sapa-dpa