Monday, October 5, 2009

Copenhagen Post Script

A couple thoughts occurred to me last night on my return to the states that perhaps were contributing factors to Chicago's emphatic defeat in its bid to host the 2016 Olympics. First, the point touched upon by the IOC member from Pakistan -- Syed Shahid Ali -- in his question to the Chicago delegation. He raised the issue of the difficulty that some foreign travelers have in entering the U.S., and how such inconvenient burdens can be mitigated. Forget about foreign travelers! It took me an elapsed time of one hour and 20 minutes from the time of my flight's arrival at Washington-Dulles to the time I finally cleared customs, passport control, luggage transfer, and security screening to be on my way to catch my connecting flight! By contrast, it must have taken all of ten minutes (okay, maybe 15) to clear the gauntlet at the Copenhagen Airport. Also, while the IOC could not help but be smitten by President and Mrs. Obama's visit, there is no question that the paralysis caused by the heightened security throughout the entire city -- from the airport to hotels, and from transportation to the convention center itself -- attributable to his attendance (and to be fair, to other government leaders as well) wreaked havoc on the usual protocols, which surely conjured thoughts of yankee imperialism among some IOC members. In retrospect, me thinks that these were not so small factors in at least some voters' minds.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hej Hej, Copenhagen!

It is now mid morning Sunday in Copenhagen, and I must shortly board my return flight home so that I can be in class Monday morning. Spending the last few days at the IOC Session and Olympic Congress has been exhilarating, if not exhausting. In addition to witnessing the final presentations of the four cities competing to host the 2016 Olympics -- all star-studded and superbly choreographed -- and the suspense-filled announcement of Rio de Janeiro as the winner, I had the opportunity to meet many of my friends and colleagues from the Olympic movement. At least five members of the CISB advisory board were here, and I had the chance to visit with them all: Ron Froehlich, president of the World Games; Greg Harney, president of Global Sports Partners; Dick Palmer, executive vice president of the British Olympic Association; Kostas Georgiadis, dean of the International Olympic Academy; and Ichiro Kono, chair and CEO of Tokyo 2016 bid committee. And yes, the Danish have been absolutely splendid . . . both the pastry and the people!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Copenhagen Wrap Up

The atmostphere here at the Olympic Congress the day after Rio de Janeiro became the newest Olympic city is akin to the day after a classic, down-to-the-wire political election. The loser has retreated to his home to lick his wounds, while the victor is visible and milling about, but attempting to be gracious in his joy and exult.

The remainder of the IOC program is anticlimactic. Oh, there's IOC President Jacques Rogge's re-election for a further four years, the vote to add golf and rugby sevens to the Olympic program beginning in 2016, and the election of new members to the IOC and its executive board. Ho hum.

A Few Lessons Learned

1. First and foremost, if you're going to play, you've got to know the rules of the game. Garnering just 18 votes out of 94 cast is not a strong indication of a mastery of the game. Next time, get a good, reliable whip (vote getter-counter) and no-nonsense enforcer to keep the friendlies firmly in the stable.

2. There are no presidential coattails in IOC politics. But perish the thought of Chicago's vote count if President Obama stuck with his original plan and stayed home. Chicago's humiliating first-round ouster sealed the deal for future presidential interventions. Never again will a U.S. president petition the IOC in person in support of an American city's bid.

3. This bid city business is not for the faint hearted or for those not willing to spend a ton of money in a risky proposition. Chicago's reported expenditure of USD 50 million amounts to nearly USD 3 million per vote!

UN Secretary General Opens Congress

At this morning's opening session of the 13th Olympic Congress, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon gave the keynote address, drawing an analogy between the 205 National Olympic Committees and the UN as international organizations that seek to improve human conditions throughout the world.

About 1,200 delegates from the Olympic family, including International Federations and National Olympic Committees, as well as coaches, trainers, academics, medical specialists and representatives of the public, NGOs and the media are attending the three-day Congress. Their recommendations will be forwarded to the decision-making bodies of the IOC and other relevant stakeholders.


Morning After

Reflecting overnight on the results of the IOC voting that awarded the 2016 Olympics to Rio de Janeiro, my opinion is that Chicago's first-round elimination was neither a rebuke of President Obama (because he and the First Lady were genuinely and warmly embraced here in Copenhagen) nor a referendum on Chicago's bid per se, but rather, a combination of other factors.

1. The simmering angst over the USOC's disproportionate share of revenue from worldwide Olympic sponsors (20%) and the U.S. television broadcast rights fee (12.75%) -- that has been a longstanding source of irritation for the IOC and virtually the entire Olympic family -- reached a boiling point last spring . . . and the pot is still roiling at full boil.

2. The USOC's announcement this summer of a new U.S. Olympic Network that raised the ire of IOC bigwigs in Lausanne because of potential legal and contractual issues that the IOC claims would affect its existing relationship with NBC. The USOC backed down and postponed the launch until later this year, but the damage was already done.

3. The chronic instability of USOC leadership in the top volunteer (chairman) and paid staff (CEO) positions, that saw yet another changeover of both posts within the past year.

4. The ineffectual lobbying of the American IOC members in persuading enough of their breathren to vote for Chicago.

It seems that the home office in Colorado Springs underestimated the IOC's discontent -- if not outright contempt -- toward the USOC, and unfortunately for Chicago, it's bid was the collateral damage.

Friday, October 2, 2009

IOC Vote Post-Mortem

The round-by-round voting is as follows:

Rio de Janeiro 26-46-66
Madrid 28-29-32
Tokyo 22-20
Chicago 18

The results of the IOC voting for the host city of the 2016 Olympics illustrate the utter unpredictability of this exercise. In the last week, most pundits, including supposed "insiders," called it a two-horse race between Chicago and Rio. Even I was off the mark, speculating about a month ago that Tokyo would prevail over Rio.

In the first round, the votes were fairly well distributed, with no city clearly showing its strength. But in the IOC's system of dropping the low vote getter, it appears that virtually all of Chicago's first-round voters threw their support to Rio. (This is understandable, given that the USA and Brazil are in the same hemispheric association, and was likely a gesture of continental solidarity.)

Like New York City four years earlier, Tokyo actually lost votes from the first to the second round, but its trailing margin of loss to Madrid was fairly significant at nine. Interestingly, it appears that most, if not all, of Tokyo's second-round voters migrated to Rio. (The round-by-round tallies differ slightly because IOC members are not permitted to vote in rounds in which a city of their home country is in contention.)

In round two, Rio opened up a formidable lead over Madrid, 47 to 29, and as noted above, it managed to secure virtually all of Tokyo's freed-up votes. The third round was a decisive victory for Rio -- what politicians call a mandate -- because it was not at all close, as many predicted it would be.

While Rio won the battle, it may rue the day as it realizes the crushing economic burden it inherited by winning the Olympic lottery. You see, Rio recently hosted the Pan American Games (2007), and has little more than four years to prepare for the month-long 2014 FIFA World Cup, before turning its attention just two years later to the 2016 Olympics. But optimistically speaking, an Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro should be an extraordinary party for all!

And the winner is . . . Rio de Janeiro!

Jubilation, heartbreak, relief, and shock. Rio is exulting in the joy of its victory; Madrid is morose with despair over getting so close, but not claiming the prize in its fourth consecutive attempt in 16 years; Tokyo knew it would take a miracle to win, and was grateful that it was not the first city to be eliminated; and Chicago is in utter disbelief that even with President and Michelle Obama's full-court press, it finished dead last! This, my friends, is the world of international politics that is the IOC!

Tokyo and Rio

Tokyo's presentation was proficient and efficient, not even utilizing all of its allotted time. Reiterating the praise of the IOC evaluation commission for its compact venue plan and ulta-sound finances, bid chairman and CEO Dr. Ichiro Kono acknowledged criticism of the bid's lack of passion by explaining that Japanese people are not accustomed to showing their emotions, but that Tokyo's bid is "full of spirit."

In contrast, Rio's presentation -- headed by Brazilian Olympic Committee president and IOC member, Carlos Nuzman -- was an impassioned plea to "make Olympic history" by sending the Olympics to a new corner of the world where it had not gone before. Nuzman has the singular advantage of being a colleague of the IOC members who will decide the cities' fate, and he has been cultivating these all-important personal relationships for many years.

Up right now: Madrid and its spear carrier, former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch. Even though Samaranch has been retired since 2001, his influence among IOC members cannot be underestimated, many of whom owe their very membership to his beneficence.

Photo: The Bella Center, where all the action is taking place!

Obama Effect?

Copenhagen, 10:30 a.m. If there was any question of President Obama's impact by coming to Copenhagen and whether he made any difference, the answer is a resounding "Yes, he did!" Even the afterglow is palpable. Most of the IOC members could not help but be moved by his presence and appeal. After Chicago's one-hour presentation, President and Mrs. Obama spent at least 30 minutes personally greeting the IOC members, one by one. And if the buzz and frenzy surrounding their exit from the hall and departure from the convention center are any indication, Chicago has plenty to be confident about. No other personality from any city delegation can compare with Obama's megawatt star power, and if his effect can linger for a few hours until the voting this afternoon, I am persuaded that Chicago will bring home the gold. Presently, Tokyo is giving its presentation, to be followed in the next hours by Rio de Janeiro and Madrid.

Something is Definitely Going on in Denmark

Friday morning, October 2, 2009. In the 10-minute drive from the Copenhagen Airport Hilton to the Bella Center (convention center) where the IOC Session will vote this afternoon on the host city for the 2016 Olympic Games, you could tell that something out of the ordinary was going on. The presence of police along the highway, stationed at every overpass, and positioned on rooftops -- and even in helicopters overhead -- signaled that this was no ordinary event. This event, of course, was not the meeting per se, but rather the arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama via motorcade. There is almost nothing comparable to the spectacle of the arrival of an American president, especially one as globally popular as Obama. A fellow delegate from the U.K. told me that it is like the "second coming of JFK." The good citizens of Copenhagen never knew it's city had so many policemen and policewomen on the force! Shortly, the four cities will give their final pitch to the IOC members, and then wait -- anxiously and nervously -- for the announcement at 6:30 p.m. local time. And we will then learn if the Obama effect is the real deal.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

T Minus 24 Hours

Just returned from this evening's opening ceremonies of the 121st IOC Session at Copenhagen's Opera House (photo, left), which was a cultural exhibition of Denmark's finest in music (Danish National Symphony Orchestra), dance (Royal Danish Ballet), and song (Danish National Girls Choir).

Today's Copenhagen Post, the local English daily, handicapped it for the U.S. and Brazilian candidates, with headlines asking "Will the Obamas take it home?" or "Will Rio be dancing in the sand?" No mention of Madrid or Tokyo.

And coincidentally -- or not -- at tonight's opening ceremonies, Brazil's President Lula da Silva and First Lady Michelle Obama made separate entrances to take their seats (about five minutes apart) to a torrent of camera flashes and craning necks. Again, no commotion for Tokyo and Madrid.

By this time tomorrow, the suspense will be over. As one IOC member put it, "I know my decision and I'll be glad when it's over." Me too.

Dateline Copenhagen

There's definitely a lot of electricity -- and nervous energy -- in the air here in Copenhagen as representatives of the four cities vying to host the 2016 Olympics seek to button hole IOC members for last-minute lobbying before the October 2 vote.

Most of the glitterati are already here, with President Obama expected to arrive early Friday morning. It's anybody's guess whether presidents, prime ministers, and even kings, can turn the table on this winner-take-all competition. But in a system where one or two votes can be the difference between winning the gold or going home empty handed, nothing can be left to chance.

Amazingly, the mother of all city-hosting jackpots will come down to the decisions of the hundred or so IOC members, most of whom are faceless and unfamiliar to all but serious Olympicologists and avid IOC vote hunters. This conclave of IOC members comes from just 78 out of 205 countries, with 23 countries having more than one member. Thus, the vast majority of countries are completely disenfranchised in IOC voting.

Another fascinating dynamic is the exorbitant expense. Collectively, bid cities expend hundreds of million dollars -- Chicago reportedly spent USD 50 million -- over a two-year campaign for the right to compete for the chance of possibly hosting an upcoming Olympics. By contrast, the NCAA at a meeting in a hotel room earlier this month awarded the men's basketball championship (Final Four) to three cities for 2011, 2012, ad 2012. Just like that.

Tomorrow's program will consist of finely tuned one-hour presentations, in which each of the four cities will have a final opportunity to persuade IOC members to their cause. Chicago is first up, followed by Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, and Madrid. There are nearly 1,000 accredited media representatives covering this spectacle, and the announcement, which will be made at 6:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. Eastern), is expected to be watched live on television by an estimated one billion people. Stay tuned.