Barack Obama, Olympic (Committee) Bound

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The marketing of Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid has hinged considerably on the international celebrity of Barack Obama and his enthusiasm for the project. In a video address to the International Olympic Committee in June, Obama’s senior adviser and close friend Valerie Jarrett announced the following:

The Obama Administration is fully committed to the Olympic and Para-Olympic games, and has the highest regard for the Olympic movement and its ability to affect change around the world. The support we have committed to provide Chicago is unprecedented for an Olympic bid city.

Obama has created, among other things, a permanent office for Olympic, Para-Olympic and Youth Sport, which would coordinate publicity and federal logistics support for the games. It is a bold move, considering that Obama, many of his senior advisers, and some of his closest friends hail from Chicago. In some cases, people in Obama’s social orbit could benefit financially from the influx of business that accompanies an Olympic games.

So Obama’s initial decision not to travel to Copenhagen for the final meeting of the IOC never made much sense. How could Chicago be pitching itself as a city with significant presidential support if the president could not be bothered to travel the pond to make the case?

Well the confusion has been cleared up. As of this morning, Obama has said he will travel to Copenhagen, with his wife and Jarrett, to make the case later this week. Oprah is also going. So are two cabinet secretaries, Arne Duncan and Ray LaHood. LaHood, the transportation secretary, has suggested publicly that if Chicago wins the bid, the city might get more than youth sports support from the federal government. Per the Chicago Sun Times:

“Nobody wants the Olympics more than President Obama and his entire team, and we’re working hand-in-glove with the mayor and his Olympic committee,” LaHood said.

Pressed on what kind of influx of federal money Chicago should expect, LaHood said, “I’ll wait to hear from the city.”

The issue of how much the federal government should spend, both in time and treasure, on Obama’s hometown is one that could no doubt be politically contentious, if Chicago wins the 2016 games. But as it now stands, that is a big if. As of today, Rio is leading’s BidsIndex. As the trade website, which only covers the Olympic bid process, notes:

Some key elements that helped raise Rio’s score are public support, a realistic budget, the sentimental lure of having the first Olympic Games in South America, and the popularity of the bid’s charismatic leader Carlos Nuzman. The International Olympic Committee’s evaluation report also identified areas of valuable Olympic legacy.