Obama Unlikely to Make Olympic Pitch

By Kenneth P. Vogel
|  Thursday, Sep 10, 2009  |  Updated 3:39 PM PDT
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Obama Unlikely to Make Olympic Pitch

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The President hails from Chicago, and political heavies don't come much bigger than President of the United States.

The White House on Thursday signaled that President Barack Obama was unlikely to travel to Copenhagen to personally deliver Chicago’s final pitch to the International Olympic Committee – a decision that would be a blow to his hometown’s prospects for landing the 2016 games.

IOC members will vote to decide the winning city for 2016 on Oct. 2, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he wasn’t aware of any plans for Obama to attend the meeting.

“As far as the schedule I had seen, that was not planned,” Gibbs said, but he would “double check on the president's schedule. Obviously, I anticipate having representatives there.”

Gibbs also suggested that the city’s bid for the Games didn’t need the boost that Olympic observers and IOC members predict it would get from Obama’s presence at the meeting.

“Look, I think the last set of articles I read on — on where the IOC was on Olympic bids, had America's bid in Chicago at the top of that list,” he said, adding “this country's bid is very well represented and seems to be making progress.”

But Robert Livingstone – an expert in the closely watched Olympic bid business who runs the influential website GamesBids.com – disagreed with Gibbs.

Not having Obama on hand in Copenhagen “will definitely make a difference,” said Livingstone, who has identified the so-called “Obama effect” is among the most significant factors in the 2016 selection process.

Obama is extremely popular internationally, including with members of the IOC, said Livingstone, and would have the ability to sway votes just by shaking hands and schmoozing in Copenhagen.

“Even if it’s just one voter who decides to switch their vote to Chicago, that one vote could mean a lot, since the winner is going to have to go through three rounds of voting, and each round is going to be close,” said Livingstone.

Gamesbid.com on Thursday ranked http://www.gamesbids.com/eng/bidindex/1216134654.html Chicago’s bid second among the four finalists, behind only Rio de Janeiro. The ranking, based on a mathematical model evaluating how each bids’ technical quality will perform based on IOC voting patterns, put Tokyo third and Madrid fourth.

IOC president Jacques Rogge told the Associated Press that he expects the race for the 2016 Olympics to be decided by "a couple of votes" and says Chicago's chances shouldn't hinge on whether Obama goes to Denmark.

"I see really no favorite," Rogge told the AP Thursday. "I think it's going to be a very close vote. I think the final vote will be decided by a couple of votes only."

The four finalist cities vying have been heavily courting the 107 voting members of the IOC for months, and the heads of state of Japan, Brazil and Spain have made hard commitments to stump for their respective cities’ bids in Copenhagen.

Canadian IOC member Dick Pound pointed out that the private meetings former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Russian President Vladimir Putin held with IOC members were considered critical in sealing Olympic selections for London in 2012 and Sochi in 2014, respectively.

“There’s no question whatsoever in my mind” that having Obama on hand in Copenhagen could have helped seal the deal for Chicago, Pound said. “If I were involved in the Chicago bid, I would be quite disappointed right now, but you have to take the cards as they’re dealt,” he said, though he added it’s understandable that Obama might be less able to attend the meeting than the heads of state of other competing cities.

“With all due respect to Brazil and Japan and Spain, with their heads of state, you’re not dealing with the leaders of the free world,” he said.

That also may be why Obama was unwilling to risk the blow of traveling to Copenhagen only to see another head of state go home with the Olympics, asserted Livingstone.

“It would definitely be a visible loss,” he said, suggesting Obama might still make a surprise last minute visit to the IOC meeting if his team was confident in Chicago’s prospects.

To be sure, the Obama administration has made an unprecedented investment in luring the Games, creating the first ever White House Olympics office, and tapping senior adviser and Chicago confidant Valerie Jarrett to head it.

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