Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


Gary Mason

If Americans are mad about Chicago losing its 2016 Olympics bid, blame the IOC Add to ...


Only in the United States, or today's United States anyway, could a decision by a sitting U.S. president to support what turned out to be a losing Olympic bid ignite such debate, prompt such insidious personal attacks and reveal such profound ignorance.

What a sorry spectacle.

Two days after his trip here to support Chicago's losing bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, U.S. President Barack Obama is still hearing about it. It's been called the worst moment in his presidency, a direct hit to the country's influence and prestige and a gambit that demeaned the office of the presidency.

And that's just Rush Limbaugh.

Mr. Obama has even felt the sting of friendly fire. Supporters, including the New York Times, wonder why he would put himself in a position to be so humiliated. The U.S. does its losing hard.

Here's a thought: If Americans want to be mad at someone because Chicago got punted early from the 2016 Olympic Summer Games competition, they should be directing their ire at a worthy recipient: the International Olympic Committee. And they should be demanding answers about the suspect and flawed process it uses to pick Olympic cities.

Forty-eight hours after the historic decision to bring the Olympics to South America for the first time, the factors behind the hasty departure of the United States from the competition are now becoming a little clearer. Not surprisingly, one reason being cited is an utter failure by the Chicago group to understand and appreciate the sometimes Byzantine politics of the Olympic movement.

North American entries to host an Olympic Games are almost always disadvantaged when up against other countries that can profit from broader regional voting blocs. In this case, Rio de Janeiro could draw on support from the Caribbean as well as Central and South America. Madrid had Europe, but, perhaps more importantly, the influence of former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Tokyo was a little different. It realized it didn't have a hope in this competition, but was positioning itself for a run at the 2020 Games. If it was humiliated here by a first-round exit, it likely wouldn't enter the 2020 sweepstakes. Give us enough votes to survive the first round, the Tokyo delegation pleaded with delegates, that's all we want.

And they got it.

I know, what a lousy way to pick an Olympic city.

As has been noted, the United States was also hurt by the running feud between the IOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee. The USOC has ambitions to set up its own television network. The IOC is against it. But the USOC went ahead earlier this year and announced it anyway - igniting fury across the Olympic movement. It later backed off but the damage was done.

At the end of the day, however, Chicago wasn't winning anyway. Rio had the best bid and gave the IOC and its members the most compelling reason for voting for it: it was their time.

Still somehow, Chicago got the impression it was a player. One report said the Chicago team figured it had 30 votes locked up for the first round of the voting. It got 18. It gets better. An IOC member told me yesterday that 35 IOC delegates told Chicago officials that they'd voted for their city in the first round.

Someone isn't telling the truth here.

And that, to me, is the big issue here - not whether Barack Obama should have gone to Copenhagen for heaven's sake.

The secret-ballot system the IOC uses to pick Olympic cities is fraught with problems. IOC delegates are lying all over the place. They are paying favours in certain rounds, usually the first. They are forming secret alliances. And until president Jacques Rogge builds some transparency and accountability into the voting system there will be more unexplainable events like Friday that border on being corrupt and are definitely morally bankrupt.

The IOC leadership needs to be more honest, too. Although never stated, it was clear the IOC wanted to get the Games into South America. And for all the right reasons. How much was that implicit desire worth when it came time to vote? Did the other bidders understand the degree to which this was a priority? The degree to which Rio really had an insurmountable head start? How many tens of millions of dollars were wasted by cities bidding for the 2016 Olympics that never had a chance?

Chicago believed it had the votes to be a contender. That was based on IOC delegates pledging their support. That's why Chicago officials summoned the president; they hoped his presence might help put the city over the top.

Barack Obama couldn't have known the fix was in and the race was over. But it was. And that's what Americans should really be upset about.

Report Typo/Error

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular