Decision day for Games host dawns

Members of the International Olympic Committee vote in Copenhagen on Friday to pick the host for the 2016 Olympic Games. Rio de Janeiro, Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo are in the running with each city unleashing celebrity campaigners for their bid.


AFP - The bitter and brash battle to host the 2016 Olympics opened here Friday with US President Barack Obama unleashing his love for Chicago to break the hearts of rivals Rio, Tokyo and Madrid.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had begun the key meeting in the morning and was hearing the cases led by government leaders and kings to win the right to stage the Games.

Japan's new prime minister Yukio Hatoyama is fighting for Tokyo, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva for Rio de Janeiro and Spain's King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero campaigning for Madrid.

Chicago was first up before the 100-member IOC, but Obama did not speak first, he was introduced to the podium by his wife to whom he gave a tender kiss before setting out an emotional vision of why his home town should win.

"The reason I chose to settle in Chicago 25 years ago is not just because I met that lady who just spoke but because I fell in love with it," he said.

"I was born in Hawaii and was taken to Indonesia so I never really had any roots until I came to Chicago and discovered this most American of cities which nevertheless possesses 130 different ethnic groups.

"It is a rich tapestry of neighbourhoods. If you choose us we walk this path together."

Michelle Obama used her father as her inspiration for bringing the Games to her hometown.

"Even when he was increasingly suffering from multiple sclerosis he would struggle on his crutches and play with us and he taught me a mean right hook," said the First Lady, who was born and raised in the South Side of the city.

"I am not just asking you to give us the Games as a Chicagoan or as an American but also as a daughter. My father would have been so proud to see us here bidding for the Games."

The First Lady also said that the Games was seen by her and her husband as a vital strand in their diplomatic strategy.

"We would use these Games as a vehicle for reaching out to the world. It would usher in a new era of international engagement."

Tokyo, the only one of the four to have previously hosted the Games, were to follow Chicago in the presentations, then Rio - attempting to bring the Games to South America for the first time - and rank outsiders Madrid.

Generally seen as odds on favourites, Chicago are bidding to become the first American city to host the Summer Games since Atlanta in 1996.

Obama, a former Illinois senator, flew in on Friday while the US First Lady has been lobbying IOC members here since Wednesday.

Valerie Jarrett, one of three special advisors to the president, believes this campaign resembles Obama's history-making run to the White House.

"It is similar to the Iowa caucuses," said 52-year-old Jarrett. "It's about meeting people one-on-one. The First Lady also has the opportunity to make a compelling case for Chicago.

Rio de Janeiro also field their president, the equally charismatic Luis Inacio 'Lula' Da Silva in what promises to be a fascinating battle between the most powerful country in the world against the fastest growing country in the developing world.

Lula looks set for a grandstand performance where his powers of persuasion will be set against Obama's equally-renowned ability to capture an audience.

The 63-year-old has already made a compelling case as to why Rio should be the first South American city to host the Games.

But he must reproduce another command performance later on Friday.

"With the Games you have to open up your country to the rest of the world - to see Brazil like it truly is," he told a news conference.

"You can't put a price on that, it's priceless, showing Rio's good and bad points, learning to correct the bad things.

"We still have much to do, but we will do it, we are changing the social reality of the poor living in slums - the recovery in our country is unquestionable.

"For other countries the Olympics is just another sporting event - for us it will be unique and extraordinary, a chance to build things that will last as a legacy for other generations."

Tokyo and Madrid, considered to be lagging behind Chicago and Rio, have lined up their respective prime ministers.

But realistically they must hope for a miracle when IOC President Jacques Rogge opens the envelope and reveals the name of the winning city Friday evening.

Not that they are giving up.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero insisted that victory for Madrid is well within their grasp.

Zapatero, Spain's King Juan Carlos and Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon all spent Thursday trying to sway undecided IOC members.

"Between the three of us we've had 50 meetings with IOC members today. We've told them the strength of Madrid," said Zapatero.

Tokyo, which hosted the 1964 Olympics, is also remaining upbeat.

"It would be the most watched Olympic Games with four billion people watching on television," said bid chief Ichiro Kono.

"We could guarantee total financial security in what are tough times fiscally and we already have four billion dollars in the bank."

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