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September 2009


An Un-Spoken Olympic Benefit

Almost everywhere I go these days someone will ask me "what are the Olympics REALLY going to cost us?" The answer: Nothing, so far.  Chicago 2016 has raised more than $76 million in private funds that have been used to pay for everything from paperclips to plane tickets to the vote in Copenhagen.

I've learned of one other interesting expenditure that any true Chicagoan will agree is a wise investment: Speech lessons for Mayor Daley.  That's right, Chicago like other previous candidate cities, has retained the services of a speech coach to work with the team that will make the final presentation to the International Olympic Committee October 2.  The goal is to ensure Chicago's team is using - and pronouncing - words in a way that will be easily understandable to IOC members.  The presentations by all cities will be in English but as anyone who has lived in Chicago knows, our Mayor occasionally experiences trouble with his native tongue.  No doubt the speech coach will attempt to purge the words "bay-sick-eeee," "evy-budy" and "gee, I don't know" out of the Mayoral vocabulary. 

This isn't Daley's first attempt to iron out his diction.  Back in 1983 in his first run for Mayor, Daley's campaign team also hired a speech coach to untangle his syntax.  Believe it or not, what you see and hear today is a vast improvementt over Daley-speak of the 80's. 

Even if Chicago loses next Friday, we all will have won.  Especially those of us who make a living interpreting Mayoralese.


My 2 Cents on the Vote...

The first round of voting is incredibly dangerous for Chicago.  The lowest vote getter of the four cities will be bounced.  If you look at the race from a purely geo-political perspective Tokyo, Rio and Madrid each have many more naturally aligned voters.  That means a city like Chicago – widely perceived to be a front-runner – could “accidentally” get eliminated early.

At it’s heart this is a two city race between Rio and Chicago.  Rio’s bid team is seductive and well-liked.  Chicago’s is trusted and solid.   If IOC members vote with their hearts they’ll pick Rio.  If they vote with their heads it’ll be Chicago.

As for why? It’s simple.  Money.  The IOC has been battered by negative headlines resulting from financial shortfalls in the next two cities to host the Games: London and Vancouver.   Do they really want to go through that again with the world’s financial footing still uneasy? While we in the Chicago media spend a lot of time, and rightfully so, focusing on the Olympic budget and prospect of cost over-runs the reality is Chicago proposes the least expensive Games plan for 2016.  Combine that with the fact the IOC’s share of revenue typically increases by 20% when the Games are in the US and I think you get a pretty convincing argument.

The unknown factor is the O factor. The IOC members I talk with continue to be hyper-focused on whether President Obama will surprise everyone by joining his wife for the final pitch in Copenhagen.  As one recently told me: “Two is better than one.” The IOC President said this week he thinks just a few votes will separate the winner from the loser.  If that’s the case, one or two IOC members who feel snubbed by the President could kill Chicago’s bid.


Will he or won't he?

As we first reported Wednesday night, President Barack Obama will host an Olympic event at the White House next week to help promote Chicago's Olympic bid.  The big question that remains unanswered: Will he use the event to say he's going to Copenhagen to personally lobby the International Olympic Committee in the days before the vote? Or, will the White House pep rally be the extent of the President's personal pitch?

In the last week, I've had two influential IOC members tell me that an Obama no-show would significantly wound Chicago's bid.  Fatally wound, I asked?  They didn't go quite that far, but they didn't rule it out.  

Why is it so important for Obama to go? Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair set the precedent when personal lobbying by him and his wife on the eve of the 2012 vote is believed to have won the race for underdog London.  Since then, former Russian President Vladimir Putin also kissed the IOC ring in the hours before Sochi was selected to host the 2014 Winter Games.

I'm told no sitting US President has ever personally lobbied the IOC at the final presentation.  For a host of issues, there is a deep feeling among many in the international Olympic community that America is a self-centered, money hungry partner in the process.  

A recent change in leadership at the USOC, the announcement of an American Olympic television network and a revenue sharing dispute have done nothing to change that impression.  This morning in Chicago, US Olympic Committee Chairman Larry Probst said his decision to temporarily pull the plug on the Olympic TV channel and an understanding to put off talks of cutting the US share of global Olympic revenue should help quiet those concerns.  “We were surprised by the intensity of the reaction by various constituencies.  "I think we’ve removed those roadblocks and we’re in good shape," Probst said.

Others aren't so sure.  Having the internationally popular President arrive on the scene might change their minds.  Chicago's bid needs a "feel good moment" that demonstrates America respects the Olympic movement.