Obama to make pitch for Olympics
Denmark visit to aid Chicago’s bid for 2016
WASHINGTON - President Obama will fly to fly to Denmark to support Chicago’s 2016 Summer Olympics bid, elevating the Games to an issue of national importance - and exposing him to political risks as well as rewards at a critical point in his presidency.
Obama’s presentation in Copenhagen on Friday will be the first time a US president has appeared before the International Olympic Committee to lobby for an Olympics. Obama initially had said he couldn’t make the trip because he needed to tend to the health care debate at home.
As the White House announced the change of heart yesterday, the contest appeared to be tight, with the decision expected to come down to a few votes. If Chicago prevails - Madrid, Tokyo, and slight favorite Rio de Janeiro are the other contenders - Obama could get a political boost for helping deliver the Olympics to his adopted hometown and giving a fresh source of national pride.
If Chicago loses out, he still might get points for trying, but he would be visibly tied to a failed effort - something Obama can ill afford when the public already shows signs of fatigue with his major efforts on so many fronts at once, many so far unfulfilled.
“If you actually go to Copenhagen and meet with the Olympic committee, you’re really on the line to deliver,’’ said Darrell West, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The president has a lot on the line, reexamining the US strategy in Afghanistan, managing the shaky economy, and pushing hard for health care legislation.
While he has long been a booster of Chicago’s bid, Obama didn’t make the decision to travel until this past weekend, after he returned home from the Group of 20 economic summit in Pittsburgh and consulted with his wife, Michelle, and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. They are the leaders of the US delegation that also includes Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, all from Illinois.
Chicago’s host committee is sending talk show host Oprah Winfrey, plus 14 Olympic and two Paralympic gold medalists, but was pushing for the president. “His physical presence just magnifies all of what he’s been saying,’’ Chicago 2016 chairman Pat Ryan said, a big smile on his face.
The president decided that the contentious health care negotiations were “in a better place,’’ making the trip possible, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday. The administration was given no advance hint of victory that would make the president’s decision less risky, Gibbs said.
Michelle Obama told reporters yesterday that she knows the president’s involvement raises expectations for Chicago’s bid. “You’re darned if you do, and you’re darned if you don’t,’’ she said. “I’d rather be on the side of doing it.’’
The president’s itinerary allows him only a few hours in Copenhagen. He is flying overnight Thursday, making a presentation to the IOC members Friday, and returning to Washington later that day.
Obama will have little, if any, time to meet personally with IOC members and may not even stay to see the winning city announced Friday.
The other three finalist cities had their country’s head of state lined up. King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain will be in Copenhagen to boost Madrid, and Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, will be on hand for Tokyo.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil will be there to make the case for Rio. The Games have never been held in South America, and the idea of making history resonates with some IOC members.