President makes pitch to IOC for Chicago's Olympic bid

Sunday, April 5, 2009

CHICAGO -- Chicago wasted little time Saturday reminding the International Olympic Committee that President Obama really wants his hometown to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

From a video in which Obama extols the virtues of the city, to the short film on the city's history that features Obama's election night acceptance speech at Grant Park, it was clear the president is a key component of the bid.

"I think he's an incredible asset," said bid strategist George Hirthler, adding that no American bid has ever had such a popular president -- with such close ties to the bid city -- in its public relations arsenal.

Chicago is competing with Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro for the games. Although those cities have downplayed the affect of Obama's election, Spanish Sports Minister Jaime Lissavetsky has acknowledged he would have rather seen the unpopular George Bush in the White House when the IOC makes its decision in October.

In his video message to the committee, Obama made many of the points that are at the center of the city's bid -- starting with a reminder that Chicago is a global city and home to people from all over the world.

"It's a city where races, religions and nationalities all live and work and play and reach for the American dream that brought them here," said Obama, who moved to Chicago as an adult.

Obama also touched on a message that all the competing cities must send the IOC about their ability to build for and host an incredibly expensive enterprise at a time when the world is mired in recession.

Chicago, Obama said, rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The city also hosted a World's Fair in 1933 during the height of the Great Depression.

"This is a city that lives and breathes the ideals of perseverance," Obama said, echoing a message that organizers have been making about Chicago's ability to host the games.

The president also underlined his connection to a city where he worked as a community activist, law school professor and launched his political career.

"After your visit, once you discover the Chicago that I know -- the city that made my home, the city where my wife grew up, the city where we raised our daughters just blocks from where these games will be held -- I am confident you will discover that you're already in the perfect host city...," Obama said.

Organizers have long said that because the city is not as well known around the world, a key to the bid would be to dispel any notion that Chicago remains a gritty enclave of belching smokestacks and stockyards.

To underline that point Saturday, they showed a film to the IOC depicting Chicago as a city of green parks and gleaming high rises on the shores of sparkling Lake Michigan.

The president's words about how near his own home is to the games also served as another reminder of a key theme to the bid: That Chicago's plan is to host a compact games.

Organizers have made that point repeatedly. They have talked about how many venues -- the proposed Olympic Village and cultural attractions such as the Field Museum -- are along the city's lakefront or within blocks of it.

They stressed that the Olympic Village would put 90 percent of the athletes within 15 minutes of where they will both train and compete.

Meanwhile, organizers talked about their briefing to the IOC team, in which they laid out their vision for the games that takes as its theme friendship through sport.

Organizers also said they addressed with the IOC a concern voiced by community groups -- including two that held protests Saturday -- that the games could drive low-income people out of their homes.

Chicago 2016 board member Bill Scherr said organizers told the IOC the games, particularly the Olympic Village, will leave the city's South Side with a new community that will include affordable housing and "new (public) access to the lakefront."

And Lori Healey, the president of Chicago 2016, said that because the proposed Olympic Village is on the site of a hospital that is largely shut down, no area residents would be displaced.

They also said they don't expect cost estimates to rise significantly.

How the IOC is reacting to all this is an open question, with Chicago 2016 officials saying they would not discuss that or even what questions the IOC is asking.

On Sunday, the IOC will be given a tour of the various venue sites. Chicago is the first stop for the inspection team, which will also visit Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, and Tokyo before making a final decision in October on which city is awarded the games.


On the Net:

International Olympic Committee: http://www.olympic.org

Chicago 2016: http://www.chicago2016.org/

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