Business, Finance & Economics

2016 Olympics: Three funerals and a party


After years of intense preparation, millions of dollars, euros, yen and reais spent — as well as plenty of politicking at the highest levels — the International Olympic Committee on Friday awarded the 2016 Olympics to Rio de Janeiro.

The IOC vote in Copenhagen, Denmark, triggered immediate reactions across the four candidate cities: Chicago, Tokyo, Madrid and, of course, among the throngs and thongs on Copacabana Beach.

To document the emotions from around the globe, we stationed GlobalPost correspondents in each of the four finalist cities. So what did they find?

Three funerals and a party.

The party: Rio de Janeiro, by Seth Kugel

The people of Rio de Janeiro rarely need an excuse to celebrate, but Friday they got one, and a crowd of tens of thousands on Copacabana Beach — most in flipflops or barefoot — watched as Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, announced on a huge screen that their city had been chosen host the 2016 Games.

The crowd of Cariocas, as residents of the city are called, exploded as if the national soccer team had just won the World Cup.

“These are the most joyous people in the world,” said Gustavo Vieira, an elementary school teacher who had taken advantage of the day off granted by Rio to put on a yellow and green wig with a shock of blue and come to the beach. “It’s the most marvelous city in the world.”

“It’s the warmest, it’s the most receptive,” said his wife Margarita, in a matching wig.

The party started early in the morning as booths provided face-painting services (yellow and green, please). Announcements on the subway encouraged those who might be heading elsewhere to make their way to the famous beach. The city government had declared an optional holiday. Confidence had been high: a poll taken this week showed 70 percent of residents thought Rio would win.

The poll also found that 80 percent wanted it to win. The 20 percent who didn’t were nowhere to be seen today, as the Brazilian popular music singer Lulu Santos, a resident of Rio who is known to ride his bike through the streets, got the crowd going.

Rio becomes the first South American city to host an Olympic Games, a point that Brazil’s boosters stressed throughout the campaign. Also part of the plea: Brazil’s quick recovery from the worldwide financial crisis and bright economic future; Rio’s reputation as a physically stunning, spirited city, of course, didn’t hurt either. And the $14.5 billion the city planned to spend to prepare was more than twice as much as the three other finalists (though much of that was for already-approved infrastructure improvements). But Rio also had vulnerabilities. It is still plagued by violent crime and shantytowns run by drug gangs, a problem highlighted with particularly unfortunate timing in this week’s New Yorker magazine. The city’s failure to complete improvements promised for the 2007 Pan-American Games cast doubt on its ability to execute. And Rio will play a key role when Brazil hosts the soccer World Cup in 2014, just two years prior to the Olympic Games, which some critics felt would be a distraction from the Olympics.

“Brazil was the only country that really wanted to the Olympics,” said Brazil’s charismatic president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, speaking soon after the announcement in Copenhagen. "I think people saw that in our eyes."

He had arrived there this week, joined by the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Sergio Cabral, and the mayor of the city, Eduardo Paes, to lobby for last minute votes. Also on schmooze patrol seeking to sway votes were soccer legend Pele and novelist Paulo Coelho, author of "The Alchemist."

Rio’s prior candidacies to host the 2004 and 2012 Olympics didn’t make it past the first cut. This time around, organizers rallied the city around the slogan “It’s Rio’s Turn.” It turns out they were right.

Funeral 1: Chicago, by Mark Scheffler

Maybe it’ll be revealed that the IOC has been doping. Maybe the hex of the Cubs was in play. Maybe the world doesn’t like Barack Obama that much after all. Maybe Mayor Daley’s gangster speak was too much. Blame it on Rio?

Already the theories are spinning about why Chicago was the early one out in the race to host the 2016 Olympics.

“Stunning,” said Erin Fortissimo of Chicago.

“It’s a great city, we would have loved to welcome the world here in 2016,” said Ralph Smith, with a stoic demeaner. He was, after all, wearing the jersey of the Chicago Cubs, that perennial could-have-been team.

"The city was very excited for the games. There’s an air of frustration,” said one volunteer. The Obama factor? Not so much. “He didn’t bring much, apparently,” he added.

The city that likes to play rough had to put a sheen on its brusk, big-shouldered image and play nice with an international cadre of bigwigs and little-knowns who make up the International Olympic Committee, the one that decides the fate of would-be host cities.

The city’s loss left a large silence in the Daley Plaza where thousands of Chicagoans had gathered to watch the events unfold on jumbo TV screens. The silence wasn’t the Zen kind. It was one of shock.

“It’s sad we didn’t get it, but Chicago still has great pizza,” one observer said in passing.

The right to host the 2016 summer Olympics was the end result of a long slog: a Herculean lobbying campaign that included overseas junkets and schmoozing marathons by Mayor Richard Daley; Pat Ryan, founder of the insurance behemouth Aon Corporation; and, of course, President Obama, who gave the final pitch earlier today. He made an impassioned plea on behalf of his home city before the IOC delegation.

“So I’ve come here today to urge you to choose Chicago for the same reasons I chose Chicago nearly 25 years ago — the reasons I fell in love with the city I still call home,” he told the IOC delegation in Copenhagen.

It was all for naught. Volunteers for Chicago's bid, some working as long as two years on the effort, walked around in orange T-shirts, with 1,000-yard-stares, handing out posters even after the fact. Still, many here opposed the bid on the grounds that the city couldn’t pay for it and would end up further in debt as a result. A February Chicago Tribune poll found that 75 percent were against using public money to pay for the Games. Some $500 million in taxpayer money was authorized by the Chicago City Council and another $250 million guaranteed by the state legislature to help pay for the bid.

Still, for some, the cost of embarrassment on the world stage might prove to be even higher.

Funeral 2: Tokyo, by Justin McCurry

Tokyo’s bid to hold its first summer Olympics since 1964 came to nothing, but the delegation from the Japanese capital at least won a Pyrrhic victory in surviving longer than the early favorite, Chicago.

There was consternation in Japanese TV studios in the early hours of Saturday after the U.S. city was the first to be struck off the International Olympic Committee’s shortlist of candidates to host the 2016 Games.

Guarded optimism rapidly turned to resignation when Tokyo was eliminated in the second round.

A crowd of about 500 had gathered beneath Tokyo Tower hoping for good news, only to be disappointed.

"It's a disappointing outcome,” said the city’s vice governor, Hiroshi Sato. “I'm very sorry. So many people offered their support. I'm at a loss for words. The frustration is that we can't give our ‘stage of dreams’ to our youth. We tried hard and did everything we could."

In truth, when Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, announced he was to fly to Copenhagen to make an eleventh-hour pitch, few expected him to succeed.

History was against Tokyo, whose supporters could never have seriously believed that the IOC would hold the event in another East Asian city only eight years after Beijing hosted the most extravagant Games in Olympic history.

Tokyo’s $166 million campaign had promised a compact Olympics that would harness the kind of cutting-edge green technology in which Japan is a world leader.

The venues were to be located within an eight-kilometer radius of a new 100,000-seat Olympic stadium in Tokyo Bay, all easily accessible by the capital’s ultra-efficient public transport system.

Those features earned Tokyo the highest evaluation after the IOC first visited in June 2008. But when Olympic officials returned this spring, they were more equivocal. While they were impressed by the marketing campaign and guarantees of $4 billion in funding, they could not ignore the lack of enthusiasm among members of the public who deemed the project a waste of money in a time of unprecedented economic crisis. A February opinion poll by the IOC put public support for Tokyo’s Olympic dream at a measly 55 percent — although support later increased — compared with nearly 85 percent for Madrid. Yet even the direct intervention of Hatoyama and the involvement of past Olympiads including synchronized swimming bronze medalist Mikako Kotani would fail to sway the IOC.

Funeral 3: Madrid, by Geoff Pingree

Bitterness and disappointment were the main emotions in Madrid Friday.

“When Chicago went out in the first round, I thought we were in,” said 38-year-old Madrid hair stylist Dolores Fernandez with a sad smile. “What pain,” added Remedios Lopez Garcia, 79. “I feel empty; this has sucked the energy right out of me.”

Their feelings were echoed publicly by Spain’s Queen Sofia when, shortly after the IOC announced the final results, she said that all Spaniards should be proud of the country’s effort to land the 2016 Games, even as they were “deeply disappointed.”

Most gathered in front of the Royal Palace in the Plaza de Oriente, where the proceedings from Copenhagen were broadcast on a large screen, seemed to think that Rio’s victory was due to its location in South America, which has never hosted the Olympics. But most didn't believe its bid was as strong as Spain’s. “There’s no way Rio made a better presentation,” lamented Francisco Sanchez, a 50-year-old chef who had traveled to Madrid from the southern coast with his son and daughter to witness the announcement. “We should have won it four years ago, and we were even better organized this time. We have the facilities and the infrastructure, and we’re unified.”

Hopes were high during a week of anticipatory celebration in Madrid, despite abundant predictions that U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to travel to Copenhagen to plead Chicago’s case gave that city an edge. Last Saturday’s gathering at the Plaza de Cibeles, where tens of thousands of Spaniards joined together to form the open hand that symbolized Spain’s “hunch” that it would prevail, seemed to set the tone.

After a bitter loss in Singapore four years ago, when its high expectations were dashed after London received the bid (helped, possibly, by the shadow of doubt cast when the selection committee’s Prince Albert of Monaco’s mentioned the Basque terrorist group ETA), Spain redoubled its efforts.

Beyond Madrid’s mayor and other expected members of its delegation, Spain sent to Copenhagen the highest representatives of all levels of its society. King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, Tour de France multiple-champion Miguel Indurain, former tennis great Arantxa Sanchez and soccer star and Real Madrid captain Raul. Tennis champion Rafael Nadal, nursing an abdominal injury that made him questionable for a scheduled tournament in Beijing, was prepared to fly to Copenhagen until his doctor cleared him to play at the last minute. And NBA champion Laker’s center Pau Gasol stayed in Los Angeles only after the team declined the personal letter of request sent on Gasol’s behalf by Zapatero.

In the end, none of that was enough.

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