Danish Reflections on Obama Visit, Chicago’s Olympic Loss

In light of Chicago’s surprise last-place finish in the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) deliberations over which city would get to host the 2016 Summer Games, considering that the Committee met in Copenhagen it’s perhaps worthwhile to take a look at the Danish press to try to answer various questions. Like: What happened? How could Chicago have lost?

“What happened” was of course primarily President Obama’s personal visit to the Danish capital to try to exert his inluence and personal charm to take his adopted hometown over the top. But anywhere the President of the USA goes, he projects his own kind of force-field that inevitably disturbs the civic space that he is passing through. This was no less the case for his quick in-and-out visit to present Chicago’s case before the IOC, as a number of Danish papers report, among which Jyllands-Posten which notes Obama delayed 41 flights. That was the damage to the flight-schedule suffered by Copenhagen’s airport, Kastrup, from the effect of the arrival and departure of Air Force One, and additionally traffic on city streets and even the train schedule were severely disrupted by Obama’s presence. Even the magnificent Øresundsbro, that suspension-bridge between Malmö in Sweden and Copenhagen, was closed for a while for security considerations.

All this was despite the fact that the Bella Center, where all the IOC stuff was going on, is nowhere near downtown, historic Copenhagen but rather in the southern suburbs (on that big island there that is called Amager) which is right where the airport is as well – except that, you see, the president also thought it courteous to head into the historic city itself to visit Queen Margarethe and Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen. What’s more, 43 people were temporarily arrested by the Danish police in connection with the president’s visit, as Berlingske Tidende reports, mainly for trying to erect banners at various prominent points along the presidential motorcade. Local Greenpeace activitists were among those involved; the message in all cases had to do with climate change – “Obama, right city, wrong date” – which looked ahead to that big UN climate change conference which will also be held in Copenhagen in two months’ time and made clear that he was expected to be there as well.

Ah yes, but the voting, the city-on-city competition: How could Chicago have lost so resoundingly, as the very first candidate to be culled from the list? A key source shedding light on this question for Berlingske Tidende was Kai Holm, a Danish (female) former IOC member who stayed close to the action. Said Holm:

That Barack Obama came was not enough to do it. I believe what was missing was any feeling, it was all too empty and business-like. When Tony Blair was promoting London [for the British capital’s successful campaign to win the 2012 games] he went around lobbying for three days and talked with people. You can’t just come in one day on the train and try to influence everything. . . . People felt that there was a lack of respect for the Olympics and for sport as a whole.

According to that view, then, Obama’s lightning visit to the Danish capital was not enough, indeed, it unfortunately showed a certain lack of respect. If he was serious he would have spent much more time there – and neglected the fight in Congress over reform to American health care, what to do in Afghanistan, negotiations with Iran, etc., but you know, you have to have your priorities right! This assessment was reinforced in another Berlingske Tidende article (entitled Rio won – Obama lost) by another good source, Professor of sports history at the University of Copenhagen, Hans Bonde: “That Chicago burned out so early shows me that Barack Obama did not understand the IOC’s psychology,” i.e. he was deluded that such a lightning-visit would in any way be effective in persuading people to change their votes.

A Near-Run Thing for Madrid

From the Danish coverage it’s also somewhat of a surprise that Madrid did not emerge the winner. Politiken reports that the Spanish capital actually came in first in the first round of balloting – the one where Chicago came in last. Madrid also had some famous personalities pleading its case, such as King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia together with Spanish premier José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero – of course – but also Real Madrid hero Raúl and – the Spanish ace-in-the-hole – Juan Antonio Samaranch, who headed the IOC from 1980 to 2001 and is now its honorary president. As Berlingske Tidende reports, Samaranch played the death card: “Dear colleagues, I am very near the end,” said the 89-year-old Spaniard (Minister for Sports in the government of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco). “May I ask you to consider conferring on my country the honor of being the host for the Olympic Games in Madrid [sic].” But, obviously, it didn’t work; the word is that, apart from the considerations that pointed to Rio de Janeiro as a more-deserving host, Madrid’s failure had much to do with its presentation before the Committee, in which the city tried to brand itself as “sexy” but nonetheless came off as somewhat dull.

So the decision went to Rio instead, despite what Jyllands-Posten called the continuing concerns about the place’s “corruption, bad sewage system and massive criminality.” Still, Brazil did host the 2007 Pan American Games there and those came off well, so it had eased those worries somewhat. And as the decision was announced Brazilian President Lula da Silva was both emotional and gracious, as Berlingske Tidende again reports. After shedding public tears of joy, he took care to thank his counterpart heads-of-government for a good, honorable competition: President Obama, King Juan Carlos . . . and also that Japanese guy, whose name he couldn’t quite recall. (That would be new Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama; but really, don’t they all look the same anyway?)

UPDATE: The interesting prospect has been raised on-line that it was what foreigners have to put up with, post-9/11, just to enter the US that sunk Chicago’s bid. (Also here, and even better.) I have to admit, though, that I didn’t find anything to that effect as I surveyed the Danish press – and believe me, I was looking for it.

UPDATE II: C’mon now, people!! Why couldn’t they have gone with Madrid after all? Samaranch said he was going to die soon, and the dear old fascist meant it!! This report in the premier Flemish newspaper De Standard reports how the 89-year-old just suffered yet another heart attack and had to be taken to hospital. It’s a fairly brief report; it doesn’t say where this happen, other than that the former chairman of the International Olympic Committee was attending the Sportel International festival, which we can easily find out on the ‘Net takes place in Monaco. He should be OK, then: plenty of rich people live there, so there is top-notch medical care available as well.

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