By Jaylan Boyle, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – It has been a week of extraordinary theater in the run-up to the naming of the 2016 Olympics host country, including the announcement that American President Barack Obama will appear on behalf of Chicago’s bid in Copenhagen this week.
Many analysts were surprised by Mr. Obama’s late commitment to Chicago’s cause; some have also questioned whether it is appropriate for an American President to take time from his schedule to participate in a public relations exercise.
However, Chicago is certainly not alone in bringing out the big guns for the crucial Copenhagen meeting: Madrid will have the services of King Juan Carlos, an ex-Olympic sailor, while Tokyo has enlisted newly elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
Speculation has been rife that Mr. Obama’s appearance before the IOC in Copenhagen will surely sway the governing body’s vote towards Chicago, since Rio appeared to be marginally ahead of the pack.
Of the criteria that the IOC identifies as essential to a successful Olympics bid, the security issue has followed Rio closely. Only Rio has been singled out by the IOC as having safety concerns. During the week that the IOC released a report that was generally warm in its praise of the city’s bid, police battles with traffickers took more than twelve lives, a commuter train was stopped during a shootout, and 2,000 children were kept out of school. The homicide rate hovers at around 33 per 100,000, much higher than that of the other cities.
Those responding to Rio’s critics point out that the violence is generally confined to Rio’s favelas, where Olympic delegates, spectators and participants are certain not to go.
The IOC has also praised Rio’s ongoing efforts to deal with the problems it faces, and existing measures are credited with reducing violent crime to its lowest level in seventeen years, a statistic which is widely predicted to continue decreasing.
In additon, President Luis Inácio da Silva has pointed out that Rio is seemingly immune to one of the biggest security threats facing the wealthier nations, that of terrorism. “We don’t have attacks, we don’t have bombs,” he said.
Brazil’s Justice Minister Tarso Genro has suggested that the concerns over security are being amplified by the media, and are not shared by the IOC, saying that officials are more worried about transportation and accommodation.
President da Silva has appealed to the IOC to acknowledge that Brazil needs the games far more than other bidders. “… It would be something to raise people’s self-esteem… No other city needs to host an Olympics. Brazil needs it,” he said, recently.
Many have noted that South American has yet to see an Olympics, and that after many unsuccessful bids, Rio should get its chance, particularly given that the FIFA World Cup in 2014 will surely place the city in a state of readiness for the games in 2016.
Lula argues that Rio is better prepared than it has ever been to host such an event, noting that the annual mass-party of Carnaval generally passes with no more than minor security issues. He has also pointed out that South America should no longer be excluded from the Olympic family, given that most of the participating athletes are from poor backgrounds. “Do only rich countries have the right to host the Olympics?” he asked.