Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rio Wins the Olympics, is India Next?

So you've probably heard by now that Rio de Janeiro won the rights to host the 2016 Summer Olympics yesterday, despite a last-minute appearance by Barack Obama on behalf of America’s entry, Chicago. And you've probably also heard that the President's critics are slamming him for not bringing the games to Chicago, saying it's a sign of his ebbing political fortunes both at home and abroad.

Politics did play a huge role in the selection of Rio as the host city, but the critics are wrong - Obama had nothing to do with Chicago getting, or not getting, the Games, instead the selection of Rio is best seen as the product of the International Olympic Committee's own bizarre internal politics.

Going into the vote, the folks from Chicago were actually worried that, despite having a strong bid, they'd lose in the first round. Why? Because of geography. IOC members tend to support host cities in their neighborhoods, so the Europeans were expected to back Madrid; the Asians, Tokyo; and the South Americans (and likely Africans), Rio. That left Chicago without a real base of geographic support, and their fears of a first-round exit came to pass.

Meanwhile, Juan Antonio Samaranch - the powerful former head of the IOC and the man largely responsible during his two decades of leadership for transforming the Olympics from a quaint quadrennial sporting event into a marketing and merchandising juggernaut - made a personal plea on behalf of his hometown, Madrid, a factor that is probably responsible for Madrid making it to the final round of voting.

And there were other factors at play. The Huffington Post ran a piece suggesting that some IOC members voted against Chicago because of the United States' tough visa regime post 9/11. An IOC member from Pakistan was quoted as saying coming into the US these days for a foreigner can be "a harrowing experience" because of strict visa requirements. Finally, there is a long-running dispute between the IOC and USOC over issues of private funding for the Games as well as sharing television revenues that likely soured some voters on Chicago’s bid.

But the biggest factor working against Chicago was simply that there was a huge desire within the IOC to continue their commitment towards bringing the Games to new parts of the world, and South America (and with the exception of Australia, the entire Southern Hemisphere for that matter) has never before hosted an Olympics Games. This was a fact played up by the Rio delegation, who passed out maps before the vote showing the locations of previous Games - North America and Western Europe were well-covered, the were a few cities highlighted in Asia, but starkly none in South America. While Olympic votes are usually close-fought things, in the final round Rio won by a 2-to-1 margin.

My prediction is now that Rio has won the rights to the 2016 Games, look for India to make a serious push to bring the 2020 Games to Delhi (the 2020 Games will be awarded in the summer of 2011). India is now the only one of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China - the countries seen as having the largest, most-dynamic emerging economies in the world) not to be selected to host an Olympics. Last year China used the Beijing Games as a national coming out party, a chance to show the world China had arrived as a major industrial and cultural power. Russia will use the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi as a similar showcase for their rise from the collapse of the Soviet Union, of course Rio 2016 will be Brazil's chance to show that they too have arrived among the 'First World' of nations. It only follows then that India will be eager to show that they too belong in the club, and in the 21st century, there’s no bigger way of showing that then to host the Olympics.
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