GORDON WHITE: Pompous Politics: Chicago, Obama Didn't Stand a Chance
Never before in the history of the United States did one of our Presidents venture overseas to promote our nation and one of its major cities while a nasty, vocal group of unpatriotic fools back home hoped America would fail.
In an ugly display of anti-American sentiment, those rooting against our President and the USA cheered loudly when President Barack Obama and wife Michelle were unable to convince the International Olympic Committee to pick Chicago as the site for the 2016 summer Olympic Games.
Now it is easy for people who disagreed strongly with the President to say he should have stayed away from Copenhagen, Denmark. It was there that the stodgy and pompous IOC held court while representatives of four cities around the world begged that body for the 2016 games.
Eventually Rio de Janeiro won out in the third vote of the IOC, becoming the first South American city to stage an Olympic Games. Meanwhile, the President's hometown of Chicago was put out in the first vote as the Windy City received fewer votes than Tokyo, Madrid or Rio de Janeiro.
Many optimistic Americans felt Chicago would go down to the wire against Rio for those games. Not a chance. Long ago the cards were stacked against any United States city getting approval for an Olympic Games for some time to come.
Either President Obama knew he was swimming upstream against a strong current when he flew to Copenhagen or he was unaware that things did not sit well between the IOC and the United States Olympic Committee in recent months. The sad thing is that politicians do not always know everything about everything and their expert staff members know even less when it counts most.
Obama may not have realized our chances of getting the 2016 Olympic Games were virtually zero. I suspect he was not fully informed of the controversy between the USOC and the IOC.
The nastiness and pettiness of international Olympic intrigue are infamous. Our pols might learn some new back-biting and double-crossing techniques from the Olympic people who play just as tough and vicious a game of gotcha as our elected officials and their gofers.
This current bickering goes back at least a year when, in October of 2008, Peter Ueberroth, the USOC Chairman, was replaced by Larry Probst, CEO of the video company Electronic Arts. Then last March, Stephanie Streeter was named by Probst to replace Jim Scherr as chief executive of the USOC. A number of other top personnel in USOC management were also replaced as Probst did an exec shuffle and cut down overhead by firing other staff members.
These changes did not sit well with many of the United States sports committees under the jurisdiction of the USOC. They particularly resented that Streeter was given a salary one-third larger than her predecessor earned even while the USOC was eliminating numerous staff members because of current economic difficulties.
The IOC may also have disagreed with the executive changes within the USOC. It certainly disapproved when neither Probst nor Streeter showed up for a meeting of the IOC in Switzerland earlier this year. At that meeting, the IOC wanted to see preliminary presentations from the cities going after the 2016 Olympic Games. The loss of major Olympic sponsors in recent months due largely to the world financial crisis did not sit well with the IOC either. The IOC may blame a lot of that on the USA because some of the biggest departing sponsors were American companies.
What may have been one of the worst offenses in the eyes of the IOC was an aborted attempt by the new USOC management team to establish an Olympic TV network similar to the Golf or Tennis TV networks. This rankled the IOC members. They want total control of Olympic TV rights and are against any splinter network.
Another long-simmering matter is the fact that the United States receives one-fifth of all Olympic global sponsorship fees and one eighth of Olympic TV revenue. This outsized US share is strongly resented by many countries.
These financial distributions are to be renegotiated in 2013 between the IOC and its various national Olympic committees. There are some in Olympic sports who feel no United States city has a chance of getting a winter or summer Olympic Games until a new money arrangement is established four years from now.
Chicago and the USA really had no chance to land the 2016 Olympics just like Madrid and Tokyo were never really in the running despite the IOC going through the motions of three votes. Most Olympic authorities felt from the start that Rio de Janeiro was going to be the IOC choice because South America was long overdue for an Olympic Games.
I do not criticize President Obama for going to Copenhagen to give it the good old college try even though I feel it was a lost cause before he lifted off. But I suggest that in the future any U.S. President stay away from Olympic committees. Dealing with them is like falling into a snake pit.
Obama has certainly learned now that the IOC is not nearly as discerning and intelligent as the Nobel Peace Prize committee. It is hoped that even his critics will now cheer him and America for something he and our country earned from Nobel, a far better committee than the IOC.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is email@example.com.
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