COPENHAGEN, (Reuters) – The frantic, last-minute lobbying by the four rival cities bidding for the 2016 Summer Olympics closed yesterday with a shift of pace as IOC members forgot the polemics and relaxed with a gentle evening of ballet.
Copenhagen’s ultra-modern Opera House staged the opening ceremony of the IOC session which will today determine whether Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo will win the right to host the 2016 Games.
Denmark’s royal family, headed by Queen Margrethe and Crown Prince Frederik, greeted the visiting dignitaries at the glistening glass building, including some illustrious rivals, King Juan Carlos of Spain and American First Lady Michelle Obama, backing Madrid and Chicago respectively.
U.S. President Barack Obama was due to fly in to the Danish capital early today to join his wife and address the session as part of the Windy City’s team.
The First Lady spent her day in a series of high-level meetings and one-on-one encounters with IOC members in what the Chicago delegation hopes could be a decisive factor in swinging the vote.
But the other three candidate cities were all strenuously lobbying in the Danish capital too.
Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula Da Silva even borrowed Obama’s election mantra “Yes, we can” in a news conference on Thursday in support of the Rio bid.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero pointed to major Spanish successes at soccer, basketball, cycling and tennis as a reason to support Madrid at his news conference.
Tokyo’s newly elected prime minister Yukio Hatoyama was flying in late yesterday to join the Tokyo delegation at Friday’s presentation.
London bookmakers make Chicago the favourite with Rio its closest adversary and Tokyo and Madrid a little further behind.
President Obama’s visit is seen by many as a high-risk strategy which could result in negative political fallout should Chicago fail to win the vote.
A Seton Hall Sports Poll of more than 1,000 Americans across the country, published in the U.S. yesterday, showed 60 percent thought Obama’s prestige could be affected by the result and only 10 percent thought his trip to Denmark would guarantee success. IOC President Jacques Rogge carefully avoided mention of the candidates in his speech at the opening ceremony. He told his audience that the IOC had weathered the negative effects of recession well and was in good economic shape for the future.
“Like every other major organisation, we have felt the effects of the global economic downturn,” Rogge, president since 2001, said. “We have met the challenges together, and our movement is as strong as ever.”
He said the IOC would continue its zero-tolerance policies on doping in sport, match fixing and corruption. Today’s first day of the IOC session will be devoted entirely to choosing the 2016 Games venue. Each of the four cities will make a 45-minute presentation of videos and speeches, followed by a 15-minute question-and-answer session. Chicago go first, followed by Tokyo, Rio and Madrid.
The vote begins at 1510 GMT and Rogge will announce the winner in a globally televised ceremony starting at 1630 GMT.