Rio wins 2016 Games as IOC rebuffs Obama

COPENHAGEN/RIO DE JANEIRO,  (Reuters) – Rio de Janeiro  won a resounding vote yesterday to stage the first Olympics in  South America in 2016, rebuffing U.S. President Barack Obama,  who had personally lobbied for his adopted hometown Chicago.

The decision by the International Olympic Committee in  Copenhagen sparked joyful samba dancing on Rio’s Copacabana  beach and shocked disbelief on the streets of Chicago, which  had been considered the front-runner.

Rio’s victory was heralded as signaling Brazil’s arrival as  a major economy by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who  hugged soccer great Pele and broke down in tears of joy as he  celebrated a momentous victory in which he played a key role.

For Obama, it marked the loss of a politically risky gamble  to bring home the Olympics. Despite a speech to the IOC by  Obama, Chicago was eliminated in the first round of voting, one  of the biggest shocks in an Olympic ballot.

“You can play a great game and still not win,” Obama told  reporters at the White House after returning from Europe.

Chicago had started as front-runners and most Olympic  observers had expected the Obama factor — first lady Michelle  Obama spent two days lobbying in Copenhagen and also addressed  the IOC session — to be decisive.

The fourth candidate, Tokyo, was knocked out in the second  ballot. In the final round of voting by IOC members, Rio picked  up more than two thirds, winning by 66 votes to Madrid’s 32.

The victory for Rio and Brazil, which will also host the  World Cup in 2014, caps a resurgence in the South American  giant’s economic and diplomatic clout in recent years — a  transformation that played a key part in the bid’s appeal.

“All those people who thought we had no ability to govern  this country will now learn that we can host the Olympics,”  said Lula, a former union leader who became Brazil’s first  working-class president in 2003. “… The world has recognized  that the time has come for Brazil.”

Lula made an impassioned appeal to the IOC to stop its  habit of awarding Olympics to Europe, North America and the Far  East and give Brazil and South America a long-overdue chance.

Despite worries about Rio’s high crime rate and lack of  infrastructure, that appeal clearly touched the right buttons  as did an appealing video display, showing beaches, mountains  and a joyous people having fun.

The 2016 Games will feature beach volleyball on Copacabana,  a marathon finish in Carnival’s Sambadrome stadium and rowing  under the city’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue.

Thousands of revelers waving Brazil’s green-blue-and-yellow  flags erupted in joy on Copacabana’s sands after the vote was  announced, kicking off a Carnival-style celebration in front of  the big stage and screens broadcasting events from Denmark.

“Rio won because we are a marvelous people. The Olympics in  Rio will be wonderful,” said Cecelia Barbossa, a 69-year-old  lawyer partying on the beach.

Madrid had led the first round by 28 votes to 26 for Rio  with Tokyo on 22 and Chicago last on 18. After Chicago’s  elimination, there was a strong switch to Rio in the second  round, the Brazilians almost winning an outright majority,  picking up 46 votes to 29 for Madrid and 20 for Tokyo.


Though Obama and his wife produced strong appeals in the  day’s first 45-minute presentation by Chicago, they were almost  certainly undone by the emotional tugs provided by Lula and  former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch for Madrid.

Lula raised the emotional stakes in his speech. “This is a  continent that has never held the Games,” he said.

“It is time to address this imbalance. The opportunity is  now to extend the Games to a new continent. It’s an opportunity  for an Olympics in a tropical country for the first time, to  feel the warmth of our people, the exuberance of our culture  and the sensation of our joy.”

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