IOC swayed by Rio's samba style as Windy City is blown away

Brazil's President gets the credit for bringing the first Olympics to South America
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The passion and drama of Rio de Janeiro triumphed over the rhetorical power of Barack Obama last night as the city secured the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games ahead of Chicago.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) found itself unable to resist the samba and sunshine-soaked prospect of staging the 31st Olympiad in Brazil, rejecting a plea from President Obama, who travelled to Copenhagen to lobby for his home town.

Brazil is the only one of the world's 10 biggest economies never to stage the Games and will be the first South American nation to do so.

There were jubilant scenes on Copacabana beach, where Rio residents had spent the day partying and waiting for the result to be announced. Carlos Osorio, the general secretary of the Rio bid, described the decision, revealed after dramatic rounds of voting that saw the final choice go against rival Madrid, as "overwhelming, spectacular, unbelievable".

It is a triumph for the Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who eclipsed the efforts of President Obama to lead a late surge in support and secure the Games for his country, sealing his claim to be not just the leader of the developing world but also a powerful voice in international affairs in his own right.

Lula, as he is known in Brazil, proved the star turn of the 45-minute presentation in Denmark, addressing delegates as "dear friends" and urging them to "light the Olympic cauldron in a tropical country". He challenged the delegates to inspire the continent's 400 million citizens, many of whom live in poverty.

In a graphic demonstration of how his continent had been ignored, he showed IOC members a map of the world highlighting previous host cities – 30 in Europe, 12 in North America and five in Asia.

Despite being favourite to triumph, Chicago was the first city be eliminated in voting, despite have dispatched the highest-powered delegation in Olympic history. Mr Obama, his wife, Michelle, and the talkshow host, Oprah Winfrey, all native Chicagoans, joined sport stars, officials and a 200-strong team of orange-clad boosters to speak passionately on behalf of the Windy City. But it was to no avail.

Mr Obama had defied Republican critics to become the first White House incumbent to personally lobby delegates – hoping to mirror the success of Tony Blair, who was widely credited with helping to secure the 2012 Games for London with his presence in Singapore in 2005.

His critics will now be left wondering why he wasted time and energy on a bid that, despite the notoriously capricious nature of the IOC voting process, appeared to have no chance of success and will fuel suspicions of entrenched anti-Americanism within the Olympic movement. His supporters may feel that the lustre of the early days of the Obama administration is looking tarnished after this addition to a summer of setbacks, revealing the growing chasm between his soaring words and everyday political reality.

In an indicator of what may have been troubling delegates, Mr Obama was forced to assuage concerns from Syed Shahid Ali, the IOC member from Pakistan, that some visitors might find it daunting to pass through US customs. The President insisted that the Games would help to prove that the world's only superpower was once again "open to the world".

Tokyo had promised to be the best choice for athletes and the most environmentally sensitive Games, but the Japanese capital was the second city to be rejected.

In the end the IOC was convinced not just by the glamour of Rio's bid, with its prospect of sailing in the shadow of Sugar Loaf mountain, but by the city's claim to be able to deliver. Brazil is already due to host the 2014 football World Cup, and two years ago held the Pan American Games.

Rio is promising to host all the events within the city limits, with venues spread across four Olympic Zones. It already boasts rail and metro links between three of the zones, as well as fast motorway links. Delegates were also convinced that the city was capable of safeguarding athletes and visitors from Rio's brigades of heavily armed criminals. But there was criticism from within the country, with calls to divert the $14.4bn (£9bn) planned for the Games towards projects designed to help alleviate the social and educational problems facing the country's millions of poor.

The Chicago losers: Obama magic fails to secure vote

The presenters on the morning cable news shows in America seemed unable at first to digest what they were learning from Denmark. The hype for Chicago to play host to the 2016 Olympic Games had been growing for weeks. And the last-minute decision by President Barack Obama, right, to travel to Copenhagen had made victory over the other three candidate cities seem all the more likely. It had been knocked out in the first round? Say that again?

The conjecture before yesterday was that the race was really between two cities – Rio de Janeiro, the actual winner, and Chicago. Victory for the Windy City was thus never assured, but no one imagined it would be the first to be eliminated. "I am as stunned as everyone else," Michael Jordan, the former star player of the Chicago Bulls basketball team, told CNN. "I can't believe they did not win. I felt they had done a great job."

Great it may have been, but not enough. While Chicagoans trailed disconsolately out of Daley Plaza downtown after learning of their fate, a party was just beginning in Rio de Janeiro. It was grey and cool in Chicago. The atmosphere on the beach in Rio, where thousands, some shirtless, had gathered to hear the news, was sizzling hot.

Mr Obama was on board Air Force One on his way home when the results of the voting were being announced. It will have been a hard blow both to him and his wife, Michelle, left. A born-and-bred Chicagoan, Mrs Obama had arrived in Copenhagen earlier in the week to spearhead the Windy City's lobbying effort, helped also by Oprah Winfrey.

Even before Chicago was dumped, Mr Obama had come in for sharp criticism from Republicans for taking a day out to fly to Copenhagen. It didn't help that the US unemployment rate jumped again yesterday to 9.8 per cent, a dismal 26-year high. And that old Obama-magic, where did it go?

But most analysts doubted whether the shadow cast on the President will last very long. "It's a classic political hullabaloo that will fade quickly," Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, said.

"I think it actually points up a problem the Republicans are having, which is focusing the unhappiness and disagreement they have with Obama. In politics you have to be able to complain about the right things."

David Usborne