Brazil defeated the U.S. in last week's soccer tournament. Next up — Rio de Janeiro and Chicago compete to host the 2016 Olympics.
Robert Ctvrtlik (left), vice president of international relations for the U.S. Olympic Committee, and Patrick Ryan, Chicago 2016 bid leader, present their case to the International Olympic Committee members during the first briefing for IOC members on the candidature for the 2016 Olympic Games, in Lausanne, Switzerland, June 17, 2009.
The United States soccer team had a great run in a tournament in South Africa last week, until Brazil came from behind to beat it in the final. Now another major international sports competition is shaping up between the U.S. and Brazil. This time, the United States is the heavy favorite.
Can we hang on down the stretch this next time against Brazil? Can Chicago beat out Rio de Janeiro for the right to hold the 2016 Olympics?
All along, Chicago's been the choice, with the British books still holding that toddlin' town at slightly better than even money, Rio around 3 to 1, and Tokyo and Madrid as long shots.
There is, after all, a popular theory that the International Olympic Committee feels it had better butter its bread and periodically award the games to the U.S. because we ante up so much television money. In truth, though, that's something of our wish being father of the thought, because the reality is that the IOC deigns to award the Summer Olympics to the U.S. only as a last resort.
Both times that Los Angeles was the host, in 1932 and 1984, L.A. earned the honor because not a single other city bid for the games. And it took unique circumstances for Atlanta to win in 1996. Athens was the presumptive choice, to welcome the modern games back home for their centennial, so a lot of cities stayed out of the competition.
Athens didn't appear up to the task, however, so Atlanta became something of a default selection.
Ironically, the only time the IOC went out of its way to award the games to an American city, that city was, yes, Chicago — in 1904. But St. Louis was holding its World's Fair that year, and it threw a hissy fit, threatening to put on its own competing Olympics, so Chicago gave in and let St. Louis hold the games in conjunction with the fair.
However, for Chicago to finally get — 112 years later — what it almost had, it must contend with rising sentiment for Rio. After all, South America has never been awarded an Olympics, and especially after soccer gave the World Cup to South Africa for next year, there's pressure on the Olympics to exhibit some continent consciousness-raising.
Moreover, it's BRIC chic now: B-R-I-C being the acronym for the big-foot emerging-nations quartet of Brazil, Russia, India and China. So Chicago may be the Windy City, but Rio, increasingly, has the wind at its back. And, gee, there's a rumor that Rio just might be a fun place if you're an IOC member with an expense account.
London beat Paris for the 2012 games largely because Tony Blair personally showed up for the vote and ladled on the charm. It may well be that for Chicago to win, late this September its own favorite son must go to Copenhagen where the IOC will vote and do some backroom back-slappin'. Or would the Republicans complain that the president should have no business wasting his time on sports; especially on behalf of a Democratic city?
Commentator Frank Deford weighs in from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Conn.