Chicago Pulls Out All The Stops To Host Olympics

The International Olympic Committee will decide Friday whether Chicago or one of its competitors will host the summer Games of 2016. Lobbying is intense at the IOC meeting in Copenhagen. First Lady Michelle Obama has been meeting privately with delegates as she campaigns for her hometown. President Obama will star in the city's final presentation.

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We'll soon find out if President Obama star power can make the difference in getting the Olympics to his hometown.

Tomorrow, the International Olympic Committee will decide whether Chicago or one of its competitors will host the Summer Olympic Games in 2016. The lobbying is intense. The first lady is already in Copenhagen where IOC delegates are meeting, and the president will be there tomorrow to amp up the wattage for Chicago's final presentation.

NPR's Cheryl Corley has this report from Copenhagen.

CHERYL CORLEY: First lady Michelle Obama is at the forefront of Chicago's effort to bring the Olympic Games back to the U.S. It reminds her, she says, of a political campaign where you can't take a vote for granted. So when she walked into a crowded hotel lobby…

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

CORLEY: …she told a group of reporters jostling for a position that she had a message for the IOC.

Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA: Chicago is a wonderful host city, great people, great facilities. It knows about sports, and the hospitality is like no other.

CORLEY: IOC delegate Nicole Hoevertsz, from the tiny island of Aruba, meets with Mrs. Obama today. She's also meeting with Brazil's president and the queen of Spain. The cities - Chicago, Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro - hope this red carpet lobbying will help their odds. Hoevertsz says she doesn't think the hoopla over the heads of state and celebrities overshadows the merits of the bids.

Ms. NICOLE HOEVERTSZ (Delegate, IOC): The four cities have had a lot of time to present their bids and their information about their city, so this just adds to that. I believe it's very important for the Olympic movement because it expresses how important the Olympic Games are for the world, not just for the sports people, but for everybody.

CORLEY: Some delegates say Chicago's hurdle is that IOC members simply don't know the city as well as Rio, Madrid or Tokyo. New rules put into place after a bidding scandal involving the 2002 Winter Games prohibits IOC members from visiting bid cities. So Chicago officials have worked to highlight the city's summer festivals, its lakefront beaches and parks, and news that Mr. Obama will attend the proceedings added more luster to Chicago's campaign. A few weeks ago, the president offered a bit of a preview when he held an Olympics rally event at the White House.

President BARACK OBAMA: The United States is eager to welcome the world to our shores.

CORLEY: Of course, the national leaders of Madrid, Rio and Tokyo are also in town and say their cities are ready, too. Brazil's delegation says the games should come to Rio because South America has never hosted an Olympics.

IOC member Anita DeFrantz from the U.S. cannot vote as long Chicago is in the race. She says she knows Brazil's argument will sway some IOC members, but…

Ms. ANITA DEFRANTZ (IOC Member): Simply because a game hasn't been in a part of the world doesn't mean necessarily that it has to be. I'm all for having the games go around the world. I just happen to know that Chicago's never hosted it, either.

CORLEY: Charlie Besser, the head of the sports marketing firm Intersport, points out that having the Olympics in the U.S. would give the IOC a financial boost. He says American broadcast companies will wait to see who wins the games before trying to get the rights to broadcast the Olympics. Besser says if the games are in the U.S., broadcasters will pay the IOC about 20 percent more.

Mr. CHARLIE BESSER (CEO, Intersport): The United States rights are going to be in the two to two-and-a-half billion dollar range. So a 20 percent premium is $400 to $500 million more that'll be paid by a United States broadcast company for domestic games that would be ordinarily paid for a games played in Rio, Madrid or Tokyo.

CORLEY: So now, a day before the vote, it's a mixture of sprint and strategy, while the IOC holds successive rounds of voting, if none of the bid cities receive a simple majority of the vote and the city with the lowest number of votes in a round gets cut. So the bid cities are also courting entire delegations, like the IOC members from Africa.

Some think President Obama's ties to Kenya will help win the votes of the African delegation, but Lori Healey, Chicago's 2016's president, says Chicago's lobbying blitz is directed at all parts of the world.

Ms. LORI HEALEY (President, Chicago 2016): And obviously, the African delegation because they're not affiliated with a bid city specifically right now are areas where all the bid cities are spending time and then talking about their relationships overseas.

CORLEY: Sports handicappers have inched Chicago ahead of Rio, the former favorite, because of the Obama factor. But Patrick Ryan, the chairman of Chicago's bid, says he's taking nothing for granted.

Mr. PATRICK RYAN (Chairman, Chicago 2016): If you think you're in first place, you tend to possibly show it. And I've never seen a group that's more sensitive to arrogance or perceived arrogance than IOC members. They don't take very well to somebody thinking that they've got it wrapped up.

CORLEY: Ryan says his mantra is stay humble, assume nothing, and work through to the finish line.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Copenhagen.

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