Heads of state muscle in on 2016 Games vote

BERLIN, (Reuters) – Whether they are presidents,  kings or prime ministers, heads of state have muscled into the  inner sanctum of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in  recent years, successfully swinging votes for their bids.

When the IOC meets in Copenhagen on Oct. 2 to elect the  hosts of the 2016 Summer Olympics, Chicago, Tokyo, Rio de  Janeiro and Madrid will bank on senior politicians to be there  working the corridors of power.

Until a few years ago heads of state did not make a point of  attending the Olympic vote.

However, the ballooning size and budget of the Games and the  2002 Salt Lake City Olympics bribery scandal, where gifts were  exchanged for votes, contributed to a change in practice as IOC  members were banned from travelling to candidate cities.

In 2005 when the IOC was voting for the 2012 Olympics, then  British Prime Minister Tony Blair flew into Singapore to meet  dozens of IOC members and actively back London’s bid.

French leader Jacques Chirac was also there, though he was  holding the bare minimum of meetings, thinking front-runner Paris  had done enough with a good bid.

As has been the case on many an IOC vote, the favourite was  left beaten, with London celebrating an unexpected victory  largely credited to Blair’s successful lobbying.

At the IOC session in Guatemala in 2007 there were two clear front- runners for the 2014 Winter Games: Austria’s Salzburg with  a long winter sports tradition and South Korea’s Pyeongchang,  which had narrowly missed out to Vancouver four years earlier.

Rank outsider Sochi, Russia’s Black Sea resort, had  technically the weakest bid with almost all of the venues needed  to be built from scratch and with no experience of hosting major  international winter sports events.

The presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the  session, addressing the IOC members in impeccable English — a  first according to his country’s reporters — proved decisive as  Sochi snatched victory.

The IOC has taken notice of politicians’ growing presence  and has urged heads of state to attend sessions without  upstaging the event itself with long car convoys, large security  and an even larger entourage.

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