United States President Barack Obama believes that decisions made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to award host city contracts are “a little bit cooked,” according to his comments made to New York Magazine and published Sunday.
The now second-term President who spoke at the final presentation for Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid in 2009 also compared the IOC to FIFA, the world governing body for football that has seen many of its executives charged or investigated for corruption.
As part of an interview piece that the magazine described as “a very early draft of his memoirs,” the accusations were a throw-away amid a broader theme of the Republican effort to limit his Presidency to a single term, and his first realization of the strategy.
Obama said “probably the best signifier of that — and I remember this vividly — was when Chicago had the bid for the 2016 Olympics.”
“A very effective committee had flown to Copenhagen to make their presentation, and [First Lady] Michelle had gone with them, and I got a call, I think before the thing had ended but on fairly short notice, that everybody thought that if I flew out there we had a good chance of getting it and it might be worth essentially just taking a one-day trip.”
The White House announced five days in advance that Obama would attend the presentation in Denmark with the First Lady, a controversial decision in itself as the President was in the midst of negotiating his health care reforms.
He continued “so we fly out there. Subsequently, I think we’ve learned that IOC’s decisions are similar to FIFA’s decisions: a little bit cooked. We didn’t even make the first cut, despite the fact that, by all the objective metrics, the American bid was the best.”
“On the flight back, we already know that we haven’t got it, and when I land it turns out that there was big cheering by Rush Limbaugh and various Republican factions that America had lost the Olympic bid.”
Reports at the time, including from GamesBids.com, noted that Obama’s presence alone may have had a negative impact on the bid election as the rigorous security protocol surrounding the President’s arrival caused delays for voting IOC members and they were forced to wait on a bus while Secret Service completed its sweep of Copenhagen’s Bella Center, where the vote – along with the Olympic Congress – was held.
It’s likely too that IOC members felt upstaged by the President arriving to fanfare at their annual session where they typically receive focused attention. The IOC, comprised of top business and sport leaders as well as renowned athletes and Royalty, are not used to waiting.
Chicago was handily defeated on the first ballot after garnering only 18 of 94 votes behind Rio, Madrid and Tokyo.
It was acknowledged in the following months by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) that a disconnect had developed between the American organization and the IOC which led to the downfall of Chicago’s bid and a bid from New York four years earlier. A lopsided Olympic revenue-sharing agreement, along with personality differences and the perception of an anti-American sentiment seemed to cause a rift that has since been rectified by completely overhauling the USOC, changing its leadership and renegotiating the deal.
The USOC’s reform has culminated with the current Los Angeles 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid set to be awarded in less than a year and it is feared that Obama’s remark could re-awaken the tenuous relationship.
The IOC faced its corruption scandal in 1998 that led to the ousting of several members and the passing of new ethics reforms that remain in place today. Though the decisions made by the members are often unexpected and controversial, it is believed that the audited secret-ballot voting process is fair, despite Obama’s “cooked” allegation.
Los Angeles is locked in a battle with Paris and Budapest to host the Games in 2024. Budapest is widely considered an outsider along with Rome that is also in the race but expected to soon withdraw. It is Paris’ fourth bid after being rejected for the Games in 1992, 2008 and 2012.
While Obama will have left the White House prior to the final vote on September 13 next year, his remark could be seen as representative of his office. But the upcoming U.S. Presidential election comes with its own set of caveats with Republican Party nominee Donald Trump raising the ire of international observers due to his controversial and xenophobic platform. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton helped campaign for New York’s 2012 bid and is seen as a “friendlier” choice for the L.A. bid.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Clinton supporter admitted earlier this year that Trump as President could harm the bid.
He later explained “I was asked the question [by reporters] and I talked about what I heard from IOC members – I relayed what they said.”
Then he told GamesBids.com in Rio “this bid does not depend on any election.”
But indeed, the 2024 race could come down to two elections as the French go to the polls next summer and are expected to replace current President and strong Paris 2024 supporter François Hollande, a leadership change that may have unexpected results on the bid.
Rome’s bid had received strong support from all government levels until a Mayoral election in June put an anti-Olympic bid candidate in office who later withdrew all support. Rome’s bid committee is expected to exit the race, possibly after a meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach Tuesday.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.