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Reasons why Rio is the right Olympic choice

Posted: Thursday, October 1, 2009 | 10:01 AM

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This time when it comes to picking an Olympic host city for the 2016 Games, the voters have a truly difficult decision to make. But when all things are considered in Copenhagen, the IOC selection committee can always fall back on doing what’s good for sport and the Olympic ideal.

They can choose Rio de Janeiro.

All four finalists are well qualified and bring exceptional credentials to the table. There is the history and charm of Madrid. Tokyo boasts a track record having hosted the 1964 Olympics and is considered an economic power which would no doubt run an efficient and spectacular Games. Chicago is big, brash and flamboyant and has all the glitz the IOC could possibly hope for. Meantime, Rio de Janeiro boasts a vibrant multi-ethnic culture and proven affection for international sport.

Rio also represents a chance for the Olympic Games to include an entire continent as a full partner in the movement as South America has not yet hosted the modern Games in their more than one hundred years of history.

It is easy to be dismissive of two of the candidate city’s chances - a tricky thing to do given the unpredictable nature of the way these things go. Still, the timing does not appear to be right for either Madrid or Tokyo. The former because a European city, London, will have just hosted the 2012 Olympics and Tokyo because it has already had its chance. Japan’s candidacy is also facing a major obstacle given the Asian spectacle in Beijing just last year.

All of which leaves Chicago or Rio de Janeiro as the strongest contenders.

Much has been made of American president Barack Obama wading into the crucible in Copenhagen. There is no doubt that he brings a charisma sure to impress the voters and the reality that the Olympics in Chicago would be financially well supported – even underwritten – by the U.S. government. In addition, there is the promise of a “prime time” television Olympics if Chicago is chosen and that is always foremost in the minds of the IOC members because much coveted advertising revenue is at stake.

However, Rio de Janeiro brings its own superstar to the showdown. Widely acknowledged as the “King of Soccer,” Pele will remind voters that this is the fourth time Brazil has tried for the Olympics and that the people of his country support the effort at the grass roots level. He’ll also make it plain that the fourth largest democracy in the world cannot be denied for much longer given the legwork they have done in hosting a successful 2007 Pan American Games. In addition, the fact that Brazil will stage the FIFA World Cup in 2014 ensures that the entire country will mobilize and be ready well in advance of the Olympic cauldron being lit.

The attractiveness of Chicago to television is a red herring because Brazil is a single hour ahead of North America’s eastern time. The Games will have huge audiences regardless.

On a less tangible level, there is the symbolic strength of Rio de Janeiro’s bid. Should it be successful Rio will be a signal to the other continent so far left out of the Olympic spotlight that there is hope. Africa has not yet been a host and the votes of their delegates could be crucial to the outcome. If they decide en masse for Rio de Janeiro it will be a sign that they want the Olympic partnership to involve an equality of nations.

While Barack Obama has African roots so does Pele. The latter is the direct descendent of an African slave and is beloved throughout the world of sport. Pele is also a United Nations ambassador for ecology and the environment and was chosen by the IOC as the greatest athlete of the 20th century.

It’s close and it should be close.

But there is one more thing to consider and herein lies the fickle nature of the IOC. It has long prided itself on being the governing body of a movement espousing a way of life and set of principles that are expressed during the course of the Olympic Games. To paint in broad strokes, things like, racial harmony and peace as well as gender equality are the desired results of the world coming together at the time of the Olympics.

But lately, the IOC has come to resemble the board of directors of a major business enterprise as much or more interested in the bottom line than it is in its social conscience. This means Chicago has a chance to trump Rio when the dust clears in Denmark.

Both cities would be a great choice to host the 2016 Olympics. The question is, will the IOC go for the bling or will it do the right thing?

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