Obama’s Distracting Olympic Bid

Dillon Zhou

It’s official, Rio de Janeiro has won its arduous bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games and our President has wasted twenty perfectly good hours in Copenhagen trying to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to send the Olympic games to his hometown of Chicago.

As an American, I’m disappointed that we won’t be hosting the Olympics in seven years. On the other hand, I’m glad that Brazil has the honor of being the first Latin American nation to host the games, as it has become a shining beacon among the many troubled economies of that region.

Chicago’s bid appeared promising since it had an internationally popular president and first lady to go to bat for its Olympic dreams. But its sobering defeat was hardly a surprise in light of the negative press on Chicago’s less than upstanding ex-governor and his widely publicized attempt to sell the President’s old senate seat for profit.

What did surprise me was Obama’s personal involvement in Chicago’s troubled endeavor to host the Olympic games. His main priority for this year was supposed to be passing health care reform in the House, but he continuously lets himself get distracted by matters that he shouldn’t get involved with.

In retrospect, this type of behavior has become something of a routine for the President – especially if we recall his mishandling of the Henry Louis Gates Controversy and getting involved with trade and cap fight to control carbon emissions.

In my opinion, Mr. Obama could have avoided getting involved in the Gates Controversy by choosing to not call the Cambridge Police “stupid”. The problem of carbon emissions could be shelved for after a successful economic recovery – after all this issue is really a long-term problem that won’t be solved by a president who’s juggling an extraordinarily heavy list of pressing problems.

After all, the President already has his hands full with passing the contentious healthcare reform on the domestic front and the seemingly intractable problem of dealing with a potentially nuclear Iran and deeply troubled Afghanistan on the foreign policy front. Each one of these things would have kept most presidents busy 24/7 – whereas our current president feels that he has time to spare.

The President’s recent trip to Denmark was just another distraction in his repertoire of unnecessary detours. If we closely examine the publicity surrounding the Windy City, America’s brush with the IOC, and Rio’s populist campaign, one can conclude that our recent rejection, in the first round in the selection process, was not a surprise at all.

If we look at Chicago’s recent splashes in the mainstream media, one gets the impression that this city still hasn’t shaken off its troubled past. After last year’s historic election, Chicago was rocked by Blagojevich’s underhanded attempt to sell the President’s former senate seat for monetary gains. This incident undoubtedly blemished Chicago’s already notorious reputation for dirty politics and back alley political deals. The fallout continued with the selection of an official replacement – a dilemma that has yet to be resolved.

On the other hand, we must also consider the recent troubles between the US and the IOC. First off, there was the supposed quid pro quo that surrounded the 2006 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City – during which allegations of improper conduct were made during the IOC’s selection of the host country. Then there was the recent tension caused by the US Olympic Committee (USOC) and their misstep with their controversial bid to create their own cable network – without the express consent of the IOC. This move caused a furor with the leading members of the IOC, as this move was a blatant breach of regulation – which was quickly retracted by the USOC.

Finally, when we consider the recent selection process for the 2016 Summer Olympics, we can see that the other finalists made a far more compelling bid for the Olympics than the US. Early on, Madrid gave a presentation that may have cooled Chicago’s chances. In it, Ex-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain – someone who still has significant clout in the IOC – put forward a bittersweet appeal to his past colleagues. “I am very near the end of my time,” said Mr. Samaranch, 89 years old. “I ask you to consider granting my country the honor and the duty of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2016.” This plea was, according to most observers, the reason why the US was eliminated in the first round.

On another note, the delegation from Rio put forth a strong strategy to get the 2016 Olympic Games. They used a populist strategy focused on breaking new ground in the history of the Olympics by allowing Latin America host the Olympic Games for the first time since the games started over a century ago. An IOC spokesman told reporters that Chicago could not have beaten Rio, even if it had survived to the final round of elimination, because the IOC believed that “it should be another beginning for us after [Beijing in 2008]. Then maybe some day we can go to Africa,” which has yet to host an Olympics. On the other hand, America has hosted the Olympics a total of six times.

In the end, the Obamas put their prestige on the line for a disappointing and acrimonious result. One wonders why they did this considering all of the factors stacked against a successful bid. Furthermore, this questionably prepared bid seems to be a unnecessary distraction when one considers the pressing domestic and foreign policy issues sitting on Mr. Obama’s desk – all which seem far more pressing than this tenuously crafted Olympic bid.

I think David Greenberg, presidential historian, described it best when he said the following about Obama’s failed bid, “This [setback] throws a little cold water on the Obama dream that simply having a fresh face and open-minded rhetoric will change the way the world views America.” At the same time, we realize that even the candidate of change has real tangible limits in what he can achieve.