Chicago and Rio in Olympic star wars

Obama may hold the key to winning the Games for his home town – if he shows up for the vote

The race to follow London as Olympic Games host city enters its last lap in Copenhagen this week, and it has distinctly familiar echoes of four years ago, when Sebastian Coe's team joyously came from behind to pip Paris at the post. This time the International Olympic Committee's congress will see an eclectic gathering of political powerhouses pressing the flesh – and the claims of the four bidding cities, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo. But it could all hinge on whether the Main Man turns up.

Chicago has been favourite all along because of the Obama factor – a personable, sports-loving head of state as practised in the art of glad-handing as Tony Blair was when London snatched the prize in Singapore, and with even greater ballot-box appeal to the IOC's influential Third World contingent. But will he be there for the IOC members' vote on Friday?

So far he has not committed himself, citing his current preoccupation with matters such as Iran and the political row over his healthcare proposals, instead dispatching his equally winsome wife, Michelle, as Chicago's cheerleader-in-chief.

However, so frantic are the preparations in Copenhagen that the wise money is on him flying in to join her – and Oprah Winfrey, among other enlisted A-listers – in a cute tactical move to clinch the Games for his home city. Yet this will-he-won't-he dithering might prove counter-productive, as some IOC members seem resentful about being played like a game of political football.

All four bids are solidly impressive, but it's easy to see why Obama's Chicago has been leading the field. Once infamous for Capone, crime and speakeasies, it is now a city of chic and sporting substance – New York without the schmaltz. Yet now, just as Paris was in Singapore, the front- runner is looking over its shoulder, aware that the outcome is not going to be another Valentine's Day massacre, as seemed probable a few months ago.

Rio is coming up so fast on the rails that the Windy City has got the wind up, and this has further resonance of 2005: the ubiquitous sports-politics spinmeister who orchestrated London's successful PR campaign, Mike Lee, has played a significant role in helping to mastermind the strategy behind an energetic Brazilian bid.

Lee claims: "The momentum is with Rio at the moment and there are good reasons for that. We've worked bloody hard in terms of international presentation and had a lot of success with the Evaluation Commission and its report [Rio's was named as the best technical bid]. President Lula, not unlike Tony Blair for London, has been a big player in this. He will definitely be there." So will Pele for a contest that could well be decided by flesh-pressing galacticos – Juan Carlos of Spain will be rooting for Madrid, while Japan's spiky new premier, Yukio Hatoyama, is on standby to support Tokyo. Brazil's Lula, who started life as a shoeshine boy in São Paulo, is, like Obama, a charismatic figure and a key player after forging a new image for Brazil and bringing it stability.

Can Brazil's economic infrastructure afford the Olympics after the hosting of the World Cup two years earlier? "Actually, the economy is the real strength for the bid," argues Lee. "It is now the 10th largest economy in the world and by 2016, the World Bank says it will be the fifth largest. And Rio's opponents can hardly cite the World Cup as a reason for not giving the Olympics to Brazil because it is too much for one country. Japan, the USA and Spain are themselves all bidding to host the World Cup two years later in 2018."

The IOC president, Jacques Rogge, who will be returned unopposed when he stands for re-election at the congress, is believed to favour Rio – though he doesn't vote – because of the legacy it would create for a continent that has never held the Games, and both he and London's successful bid chief, Lord Coe, think it is going to be at least as close as the five votes which finally separated London and Paris.

The evidence suggests they are right and that once again it will be a tale of two cities, with a Chicago/Rio vote-off, though either Madrid or Tokyo could sneak in by the back door should one of the big two lose out in the first round through tactical voting.

Favourites do not have a great track record in these contests, but I hope Chicago wins because it has a London-like message of regeneration and an appeal to youth. But on-a-roll Rio are ready to rumble.

So the destination of the 2016 Games may be in Obama's hands, provided he is there to shake those of the star-struck Olympic constituents who will be raising theirs. Can he do it? Well, you know what he said before that other election....

Bidding for glory

Chicago Plus points: Compact and athlete-friendly; most sites within five miles of centre, many of them existing. Commercially attractive. Obama. Achilles heel: Concern over public transport. No financial guarantees from local or national government. Fizz factor: Great lakeside setting. Odds: 8-11.

Rio de Janeiro Plus points: Sun, samba, and first-ever Olympics in South America. Financially sound. Young, sports-loving population. Achilles heel: High crime rate. Poor transport. Lack of hotel rooms. Fizz factor: Beach volleyball on Copacabana. Odds: 11-4.

Tokyo Plus points: Efficiency. Emphasis on regeneration. Huge commercial opportunities. Achilles heel: Indifferent public support. Doubts about availability of land for Village. Fizz factor: None really – but Games would go like clockwork. Odds: 5-1.

Madrid Plus points: Influence of former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch; 23 venues in place. Experience of bidding last time. Achilles heel: IOC may not want third successive Games in Europe. Fizz factor: Fiesta atmosphere, like '92 in Barcelona. Odds: 8-1 (by William Hill).

Alan Hubbard

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?