If Only The IOC Was Still Taking Bribes

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It's too bad the International Olympic Committee isn't taking bribes anymore. Imagine what a lock Chicago would be then.

Instead, the City of Broad Shoulders and greased palms has pinned its hopes on a skinny left-hander who won't get to Copenhagen until the last minute, but has already demonstrated he can deliver an election. And if even Barack Obama can't twist enough arms Friday morning to seal the deal?

Well, then, blame it on Rio.

The thing to remember about the election for the 2016 Summer Games is that it's more like a race to become high school president than, say, the pope. Popularity matters more than issues. And while anything can still happen, that's likely why you can say sayonara to Tokyo and adios to Madrid.

This looks increasingly like a two-horse race that Brazil would have clinched already _ if it was about fairness and nothing else. Latin America's emerging power surged into the lead during a meet-and-greet session with committee members in June, when longtime Brazilian IOC representative and Rio bid president Carlos Nuzman charmed the socks off his colleagues and served up a dramatic reminder of who owed whom.

Nuzman is a suave, savvy Olympic insider who controls every important decision-making position in Rio's bid. So in addition to familiarity, he offered his colleagues one-stop shopping for all their needs. But he also proved just how well he knows them by going that extra step and bringing in Brazil's central banker to show off the nation's emerging wallet.

Then Nuzman closed his presentation with a flourish. He unveiled a map of the world marked with the site of every summer and winter games since the Olympics were founded. The absence of a single pin in either Africa or South America spoke volumes.

But that was then. And if there was a flaw in Brazil's presentation, it's that it peaked too early. It's like taking over the lead in the third leg of a mile race.

If it comes down to Obama and Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in a sprint, where are you going to put your money?

(In the interest of full disclosure, I'm writing from Chicago, where I was born, raised and still live. My work has taken me to both Tokyo and Madrid more than once and every Olympics since 1988, but never to Rio. I would love to see the beaches there. I also wouldn't mind covering the games and sleeping in my own bed.)

One Olympic observer who hadn't met Lula until he appeared before the commission said not so fast.

"They are very alike, similar backgrounds, with similar appeal and even charisma. Both are very, very convincing. The difference," she noted, "is that Obama is better-looking and, yes, there are a few women among the IOC members."

There are 106 members on the IOC selection committee, though all don't always bother to show up. Once members from the four nations with bids leave the room, 98 will be eligible to cast votes in the first round. Handicappers predict it will take 26 to advance, with the city collecting the fewest votes departing after each round. An early exit by Tokyo is supposed to boost Chicago's chances, since Rio and Madrid will be vying for the Latin bloc vote. The opposite could be true if Madrid goes out first.

Last time around, London beat Paris 54-50 in the final round, with the narrow margin of victory credited to a great closing job by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. That may be the reason Obama reversed course and took off for Denmark, though a growing chorus of Republicans insist the president is going to pay back the pols who taught him mastery of a real rough-and-tumble sport.

"He's the president of the United States," GOP House leader John Boehner of Ohio moaned at one point, "not the mayor of Chicago."

Speaking as a lifelong Chicagoan, frankly, either reason for Obama's trip works for me. Just know that if he were the mayor, his life would be a lot easier. Like his father befoe him, Mayor Richard M. Daley has the kind of grip on Chicago that IOC members have to respect.

And talk about one-stop shopping: In 2003, in the middle of a dispute with some civic and aviation industry leaders over his plan to turn a little-used, single-runway downtown airport into a park, Daley sent in bulldozers under cover of darkness and had the runway broken into concrete chunks.

For better or worse, that's how we roll. It's also why polls show the city split almost down the middle over the bid. Joy at the prospect of jobs and construction projects is offset by who will get them, and how. This may be the city that works, but it still works better for some than others.

We already pay more in taxes and for gas than anybody in the country. But we expect something for our money, going back to the days when lining someone's pocket was the fastest way to get things done. I talked to the guy at the grocery store at the end of a very unscientific poll I conducted while running errands.

He knew some people whose homes were going to be displaced. He also knew others who had a good shot at a construction job or two.

"After all this trouble, if we get the games," he growled, "then we damn well better dominate."

___

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist at The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke (at)ap.org

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