Mrs. Obama Will Pitch Chicago in Copenhagen

As reported in Crain’s Chicago Business online:

The odds on Chicago’s Olympic bid just got longer.

Michelle Obama, not the president, will help sell Chicago’s bid to the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen next month, the White House announced Friday. President Barack Obama has decided not to make the trip because of the healthcare reform, which is bogged down in Congress.

Mr. Obama’s absence could be a major blow to Chicago’s bid with weeks to go before the vote. Heads of state have become an expected part of the bidding process since 2005 when British Prime Minister Tony Blair convinced the IOC to send the 2012 Games to London.

The race for the 2016 games between Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo is expected to be a very tight and will be decided by just a handful of votes, IOC President Jacques Rogge said Thursday, though he downplayed the impact if Mr. Obama were a no-show. Mr. Obama told Mr. Rogge earlier Friday that he wouldn’t be able to attend the IOC meeting in Copenhagen.

“She’s not the president,” said Rob Livingstone, who runs the Toronto-based Web site, which tracks the race to host the Olypmics. “The IOC members are hoping for the president.”

Bid watchers, however, smell a smoke screen that Mr. Obama might ultimately show up on Oct. 2 in Denmark.

“This is a way to lower expectations,” said Chicago-based sports consultant Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp Ltd. “My prediction is he shows up at the last minute and makes a grand entrance. That will make his being there more impactful.

“But if he doesn’t go at all, and there’s no world crisis, it will be viewed as a negative. This thing is going to come down to just a few votes. Michelle is good. She’s stronger than (presidential adviser) Valerie Jarrett. As strong as (Ms. Obama), she’s not the president. When the president, who is a rock star around the world, looks you in the eye and says I want your vote to bring the Olympics to Chicago, that’s the clincher.”

The Chicago bid committee downplayed the news.

“As a lifelong Chicagoan, the First Lady is uniquely qualified to share with members of the IOC the passion and enthusiasm of our city for sport and the Olympic and Paralympic Movement,” Patrick Ryan, CEO of Chicago 2016, said in a statement.

Read coverage of this issue in the New York Times.


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