The Olympics are about athletics, competition, and the power of sport to draw the nations of the world together. It’s also about politics. Would Los Angeles have gotten the Summer Games in 1984 if Moscow hadn’t hosted them in 1980? Would Beijing have hosted the games in 2008 if China wasn’t the fastest growing economy on the planet? Do you think Atlanta’s bid in 1996 was helped at all by the fact that it’s Coca-Cola’s world headquarters-one of the Olympics largest corporate sponsors?In its less celebrated moments, the International Olympic Committee has been accused of allowing political and economic influence determine its choice of host cities. Although it has sought to clean up its act, if you think the IOC is now completely incorruptible I’ve got an Illinois Senate seat to sell you. Given the political overtones of the Olympic bid process, and the reality that who you know may be far more influential than what you know, its worth looking at who is representing each bid city. Representing Tokyo: Gundam The city of Tokyo has erected a giant 18-meter replica of the animated robot hero, Gundam. The attraction stands on the man-made island of Odaiba, one of the central sites for the proposed 2016 games if Tokyo wins the bid. The robot has moving parts and apparently “comes alive” at night with lights and sound effects. One Japanese official said “I believe this statue in Odaiba will serve as a new Statue of Liberty, something that will inspire people and the new generations.” Wow, that’s a bold statement. But I’ll give Tokyo credit for one thing-Gundam is an iconic representation of their culture, and that’s the kind of stuff the IOC seems to value. (But why not Godzilla?) The giant 18-meter replica of this long-favorite robot animation will welcome visitors to the man-made island of Odaiba throughout the summer season until Aug 31. One of bid organizers says, “The Gundam robot symbolizes the advanced technology for which Japan is famous, and also how this is helping Tokyo 2016 to inspire young people and bring about a green transformation across the city.” Representing Madrid: Spanish Basketball Team Last year at the 2008 games in Beijing, both the men’s and women’s Spanish basketball teams posed for photos that were published in a popular sports paper. The photos caused an international controversy because the players were making “slit-eye” gestures with their fingers-apparently a reference to the East Asian location of their Olympic competition. One newspaper reports:
Although no offence was intended by either the players or the Spanish federation, the advertisement is unlikely to be viewed kindly at a time when the Spanish Olympic committee is pursuing a bid to stage the Games in 2016.
In my opinion, this only adds to the juvenile tone of Madrid’s bid-from the graphic logo and motto, to their athlete’s behavior. Representing Rio: Christ the Redeemer Hey, if you need a reference there are few better than this one. The 130 ft statue that overlooks Rio de Janiero is one of the most iconic symbols of the city, and not a bad one either. It’s more than twice as large as Tokyo’s robot, and I think it’s fair to conclude that Jesus Christ has more name recognition globally than Gundam. It is also officially recognized as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Rio may want to make the most of this representative when interacting with the IOC because there is a lot that needs redeeming in the city. Crime rates are five times worse than in the United States-and that’s saying something. Gun battles are common between drug gangs in Rio’s expansive slums, and the State Department has a long standing warning for Americans who travel to the city. Car jackings are rising, and kidnapping of foreign nationals is a huge problem. Representing Chicago: President Barack Obama There’s been a lot of speculation about whether or not Obama would travel to Copenhagen for the IOC vote on Oct 2. Last week the White House said that Michelle Obama would be the US representative, but the President wouldn’t be going. Then he authorized a “Presidential Advance Team” to go to Copenhagen to establish security just in case he decided to go. Then yesterday press secretary Gibbs said there is “absolutely” a possibility the President will go to Copenhagen. The politics of this is so obvious it’s hard to ignore. The President isn’t going to travel to Copenhagen, postpone work on the health care bill and decisions looming about Afghanistan, simply to look stupid if Chicago’s bid for the games is denied. The only way Obama gets on Air Force One for Copenhagen is if he has been assured that the games are coming to Chicago. Along with Obama is the other big “O” from Chicago-Oprah Winfrey. Surprisingly, Michael Jordon, probably Chicago’s most famous athlete and Olympic champion, isn’t going. After his performance at his induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame, maybe we should be grateful he’s not representing Chicago in Copenhagen.