Chicago's Early Exit Should Be Usoc Wake-up Call

Analysis

October 04, 2009|By Philip Hersh | Philip Hersh,Tribune Newspapers

COPENHAGEN - - That Rio won the 2016 Summer Games is easily understandable.

The International Olympic Committee fancies itself a force in global affairs. As in the case of breaking Olympic ground by giving the 2008 Olympics to China, the world's most populous country, Friday's vote was a chance for the IOC to say that by giving the first Olympics to South America, it will have aided the development of Brazil, the most populous country on the continent.

That Chicago was eliminated in the first round, as shocking as it seemed, also was understandable, given the IOC's Byzantine internal politics, its fractious relationship with the country whose companies have been its cash cow and the way the host-city election system is structured.

Since the IOC narrowed the 2016 field from seven to four finalists 16 months ago, it has been apparent that Chicago's biggest challenge would be surviving the first round in what was expected to be a very close election.

Chicago was the only candidate without a significant regional constituency. And it was working to overcome years of IOC members' ill feeling toward the U.S. Olympic Committee, which intensified in the past year.

NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, whose company paid $5.7 billion for Olympic TV rights from 2000 through 2012, placed the blame squarely on the USOC.

"This was the IOC membership saying to the USOC there will be no more domestic Olympics until you join the Olympic movement," Ebersol said Saturday, after he had talked with many leading members. "Chicago never had a chance, it turns out."

Chicago failed for some of the same reasons New York lost in the second of five rounds of voting for the 2012 Summer Games. It also failed out of a naivete that having what may have been the best bid was good enough.

"We [North Americans] kind of think if you've got the best bid, the world will recognize that, and these decisions are made solely on the merits of the bid. Well, not solely," said veteran IOC member Richard Pound of Canada.

The issue isn't that Rio earned what Ebersol called a "spectacular and deserved victory." It was Chicago's early departure after long having been considered the favorite.

Conversations with IOC members and other Olympic officials Friday produced a number of reasons factoring into the second straight slap in the face at a U.S. bid city.

Even with an intense USOC international relations effort after New York's expected defeat four years ago, the United States is not a player in international sports politics.

"The United States, within the Olympic movement, hasn't engaged as well as we could have for a long time," said Bob Ctvrtlik, who filled a newly created position, USOC vice president for international relations, after the New York defeat.

The USOC, in its habitual revolving-door leadership mode at the start of New York's bid, went right back into that position in March, when its board unceremoniously dumped chief executive Jim Scherr in favor of Stephanie Streeter.

IOC member Denis Oswald of Switzerland cited the USOC instability as a problem and said it was his impression "this was a defeat for the USOC, not for Chicago."

The apparent truce between the IOC and the USOC in the acrimonious negotiations over revenue-sharing didn't hold. And the USOC's decision to go forward with its own TV network despite IOC warnings to desist remained an irritant.

"The truce might have held if not for the network thing," Ebersol said. "It made IOC members suspicious the USOC was just going to keep all the sponsorship money and use it for the network."

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