Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Brazil’s 2016 Olympic Bid Gets Presidential Push

The easiest job in the world belongs to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as he supports Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics.

All da Silva has to do is say “Rio has the most beautiful beaches in the world,” and he has an instant audience.

He made this simple statement Tuesday in throaty Portuguese, with English translation, and right away I was picturing the long foamy waves and Corcovado in the background and, well, all right, I was also picturing “The Girl From Ipanema.”

In a week or so, da Silva will fly to Copenhagen for the Oct. 2 vote by the International Olympic Committee that will decide from among Chicago, Tokyo, Madrid and Rio. He will undoubtedly mention beaches. But he will also push his other talking points: Brazil is an emerging economic giant and it deserves to represent South America, which has never hosted the Olympics.

A union man, a former lathe worker, da Silva talks with passion about poor kids from Brazil or Argentina or Colombia who could “hop on a bus or a truck” to see the Games. It is not clear that any of the 106 voting members of the I.O.C. will care about this populist sentiment.

In New York to visit the United Nations on his way to Pittsburgh for the G-20 economic summit on Thursday and Friday, da Silva will then go to Copenhagen. He is following in the path of Prime Minister Tony Blair, who flew to Singapore in 2005 and chatted up I.O.C. members, apparently so successfully that London was chosen for 2012.

And then there was Vladimir V. Putin, who as Russia’s president traveled to Guatemala City in 2007 and turned on his K.G.B. charm until the city of Sochi was chosen to hold the 2014 Winter Games.

After those two missions, the folk wisdom is that it does not hurt to have a head of state work the room before the members take their secret vote.

“I have information on how London won,” da Silva said. “And yes, Blair talked to a lot of people.” Sebastian Coe, the head of the London organizing committee and a gold-medal runner, is also said to have turned a few delegates as London stunned Paris to win the vote for 2012. But the point was made: schmoozing just might work.

With that in mind, Japan’s new Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, is considering traveling to Copenhagen and King Juan Carlos of Spain is expected to attend. But President Obama has said he is not going.

“I would make a case in Copenhagen personally if I was not so firmly committed into making real the promise of quality affordable health care for every American,” Obama said recently, adding, “But the good news is I am sending a more compelling superstar to represent the city and country we love and that is our first lady.”

Asked if it was helpful for a head of state to attend the meeting, da Silva volunteered that he has been talking to I.O.C. members for two years. When somebody noted that Michelle Obama would represent the United States in Copenhagen, da Silva said he was bringing his wife with him, “so it will be two against one.”

More damaging than the absence of President Obama is the reality that the acting chief executive officer of the United States Olympic Committee, Stephanie A. Streeter, and the president, Larry Probst, have relatively little standing in the I.O.C., which is known for clubbiness and contacts.

The I.O.C. president, Jacques Rogge, has said, rather ominously, that disputes with the U.S.O.C. about revenue sharing and a proposed Olympic network in the United States will have “no negative effects whatsoever” on Chicago’s chances. The generally attractive plan by the great city of Chicago could be offset because some I.O.C. members are still unhappy over losing their perks in bid cities after revelations that favors helped bring the 1996 Summer Games to Atlanta and the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City.

All four finalist cities for 2016 received good reports by the bid committee earlier this month. The strongest criticism of Rio mentioned violence, but da Silva said Brazil had not suffered an overt terrorist attack, and he told how poor youth from Brazil’s slums had helped quell robberies during recent sports events.

Speaking to invited representatives of about a dozen news outlets, da Silva made the point that Brazil has the largest economy of any nation that has not yet held the Summer Games. He stressed the development of oil fields off the Brazil coast and the nation’s aircraft industry.

“We’re not this tiny country people thought,” he said.

He noted that Brazil will be the host for the World Cup of soccer in 2014, and said infrastructure would be created for the tournament that would be useful in 2016. But the best infrastructure of all might be the sand and the waves.

Wait a minute: the 2016 Summer Games will be in August, which just happens to be late winter south of the Equator. However, a check of the weather for Rio in August revealed an average high of 76 degrees Fahrenheit and an average low 64 (24 to 18 centigrade). Very nice for walking on the beach, somebody from the bid committee reassured me. No doubt da Silva will mention this to the I.O.C. members.

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