Everyone knows President Obama is a big sports fan, and he has been vocal in his support of Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. But here at the United States Olympic Committee media summit in the Windy City, there are suggestions that perhaps Obama could do more.
For one thing, Obama has not committed to attending the International Olympic Committee’s meeting on Oct. 2, when they will announce the winner of the bid. The heads of state of three other nations bidding for the games have, according to reporters who pressed USOC officials on the question of Obama’s involvement.
Chicago is in a tight race against Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid for the games, and the feeling is that Obama’s presence could be a difference-maker. But Obama at this point has only promised to send a senior advisor to the IOC meeting in Copenhagen.
“We really hope he goes,” said USOC acting CEO Stephanie Streeter. “We would like for him to be there. We think it could make a difference.”
USOC officials were effusive in their praise of Obama and insisted that he has been helpful for the bid. The President has plans to bring U.S. Olympic athletes to the White House next week, a visit coordinated with officials from Chicago 2016. In June, Obama created the White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport. He previously taped a video supporting Chicago’s bid when IOC officials met in Nigeria in June.
A lack of financial support from the federal government for Chicago 2016 has also been a sticky issue. The IOC has asked all bid cities to provide a full financial guarantee to cover any and all cost overruns. All other bidding cities got those guarantees for the federal government, satisfying the IOC. But the United States government never offers such guarantees as a matter of policy. The lack of such a guarantee was seen as a point of weakness in the Chicago bid until this week, when the city council of Chicago passed a measure ensuring full financial support at the local level.
Bid officials have appeared understanding of the federal government’s position and pointed out that as much as $750 million in overruns would be covered by an insurance policy. But anything above and beyond that $750 million would be paid for by local taxpayers, a fact that could erod public support for the bid.
In March of 2007, before Obama was elected, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley suggested the federal government should get more involved financially.
“In other countries, the federal government steps up and says, `We’re the insurance policy,’” he said according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “Here in the United States, they’ve never done that. And that’s been a real question by the International Olympic Committee. Why wouldn’t the United States stand behind the Olympic movement?”