Wednesday July 1st, 2009

Our underdog soccer team's success last week in South Africa was a sweet surprise till Brazil caught us -- but, in the meantime, in the year's other major international sports competition, we're the heavy favorite. But can we hang on down the stretch this next time against Brazil? Can Chicago beat out Rio for the right to hold the 2016 Olympics?

All along, Chicago's been the choice, with the British books still holding that toddlin' town at slightly better than even money, Rio around 5-2, with Tokyo and Madrid as longshots.

There is, after all, a popular theory that the International Olympic Committee feels that it better butter its bread and periodically award the Games to the U.S. because we ante up so much television money. In truth, though, that's might be wishful thinking, because the reality is that the IOC deigns to award the Summer Olympics to the U.S. only as a last resort.

Both times that Los Angeles was the host, in 1932 and '84, L.A. earned the honor because not a single other city bid for the Games, and it took unique circumstances for Atlanta to win in '96. Athens was the presumptive choice, to welcome the modern Games back home for its centennial, so a lot of cities stayed out of the competition. Athens didn't appear up to the task, however, so Toronto became the alternative, but there was kvetching in Ontario that the Olympics were too expensive. The IOC demands unconditional love, so Atlanta became something of a default selection.

Ironically, the only time the IOC went out of its way to award the Games to an American city, that city was, yes, Chicago -- in 1904. But St. Louis was holding its World's Fair that year, and it threw a hissy fit, so Chicago gave in and let St. Louis hold the Olympics in conjunction with the fair.

However, for Chicago to finally get what it almost had 112 years later, it must contend with rising sentiment for Rio. After all, South America has never been awarded an Olympics, and especially after soccer gave the World Cup to South Africa for next year, there's pressure on the Olympics to exhibit some continent consciousness raising. Moreover, it's BRIC chic now -- B-R-I-C being the acronym for the big-foot emerging nations quartet of Brazil, Russia, India and China. So Chicago may be the Windy City, but Rio, increasingly has the wind at its back. And, gee, there's a rumor that Rio just might be a fun place if you're an IOC member on expense account.

London beat Paris for the 2012 Games largely because Tony Blair personally showed up for the vote and ladled on the charm. It may well be that for Chicago to win, its own favorite son must go to Copenhagen, where the IOC will vote, late this September and do some backroom back-slappin'. Or would the Republicans complain that the President should have no business wasting his time on sports -- especially on behalf of a Democratic city?

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