Why Obama Failed in Copenhagen

No one outside of the Chicago-White House axis, or the International Olympic Committee (IOC), can claim true understanding of the reasons for Obama’s trip to Copenhagen or its surprising outcome. Going into the vote, Chicago was the favorite, with 4-5 odds from one of London’s best bookmakers. In the event, the city received only 18 votes out of 94 and finished behind long-shot Madrid, which had gone off at 8 to 1.

The most rational explanation for the reversal is “money.” Oh, not bribery, even though the IOC is rumored to be less than perfect. But the main concern of IOC members must be that every set of games be a glitzy and successful affair, and this means they must be confident that if the deadlines loom and the facilities must be constructed out of bricks of hundred dollar bills, such will be done if necessary. Personal connections or even corruption might determine the choice between qualified cities, but they would not overcome committee members’ determination that success be guaranteed.

When President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spoke, there was no doubt that his bid was by the nation of Brazil ($14 billion worth of commitment) and not by the city of Rio alone. The bricks of reais will be there if needed. Chicago’s bid was supported only by the city, and even that support was a bit dubious because Mayor Daley had only reluctantly agreed to commit the city to cover any losses and had repeatedly assured taxpayers that they would not be on the hook and that money would be coming from other sources.

There was no national backstop for Chicago; the U.S. government does support the Games when they are held in this nation -- usually with a couple of billion or so -- but no federal promise was formally part of the proposal. If Daley turned out to be wrong because of a bad economy, corruption, or incompetence, his voters might have rebelled whatever the consequences for the Games.