- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2009

LONDON (AP) — Exactly a month before the final vote, all four cities bidding for the 2016 Olympics received a mix of praise and criticism Monday in an IOC report assessing their technical merits.

The International Olympic Committee’s evaluation report gave generally high marks to Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo, but also listed concerns on various grounds.

Rio — seeking to take the Olympics to South America for the first time — may have gained the most, receiving the fewest direct criticisms in the report summary. Chicago, long considered a front-runner, took some hits, especially on the lack of financial guarantees.

The 98-page report also cited low public support in Tokyo and a lack of understanding of different roles in Madrid.

Rio bid leaders said they believed they received the best review.

“The IOC report is a real boost to the Rio bid,” bid president Carlos Nuzman told The Associated Press. “They have provided a very strong confirmation of our games plan and vision. It is fair to say Rio has a very positive report, and possibly the most favorable. We didn’t have any red points.”

The report is based on technical criteria, such as venues, budgets, transportation plans and public support, and doesn’t rank or grade the cities.

The report is unlikely to make or break the race when the 100-plus IOC members cast their secret ballots in Copenhagen on Oct. 2.

Chicago, bidding to bring the Summer Olympics back to the United States for the first time since the 1996 Atlanta Games, came in for some of the most direct negative comments.

Among the issues under scrutiny has been Chicago’s financial guarantees. Unlike other bid cities, Chicago’s candidacy is not underwritten by the federal government.

“Chicago 2016 has not provided a full guarantee covering a potential economic shortfall of the OCOG (Olympic organizing committee) as requested by the IOC,” the report said, adding that Chicago had instead proposed a capped guarantee of $750 million which presents a “risk” in the event of a larger deficit.

At the time of the IOC visit in April, the report said, Chicago had formally requested that the IOC amend the host city contract dealing with the financial guarantees, and the IOC had refused.

Since then, however, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has pledged to sign the contract, requiring the city to take full financial responsibility for the games and the proposed $4.8 billion operating budget.

The IOC report praised Chicago’s compact venue plans along the downtown waterfront, and minimum travel time for athletes, but noted that the equestrian, shooting, road cycling and mountain biking venues were relatively far away.

The report also singled out the “well-designed and compact lakefront Olympic village” but noted that, at the time of the commission’s visit, full financing guarantees for the complex had not been provided.

The IOC also said Chicago’s use of temporary or scaled-down venues “increases the element of risk” to the organizing committee, and said transportation could be a “major challenge” because it would involve more than doubling the peak commuter traffic.

The report said there was a need for “clearer delineation of roles and responsibilities” between the city and organizing committee, and said Chicago’s budget — including sponsorship revenue target of $1.83 billion — is “ambitious but achievable.”

With IOC members still barred from visiting bid cities in the wake of the Salt Lake City scandal, the report is intended to offer guidance to the delegates.

“The commission feels that whilst each of these cities could organize the 2016 Games, there are risks and opportunities inherent to each project which it is the commission’s duty to clearly identify to the IOC members before the elect the 2016 host city,” the report said.

However, IOC members tend to vote for individual reasons, including geopolitical factors, and the final presentations by the four cities in Copenhagen will also be crucial.

The report is based on visits by the evaluation commission to the four cities in April and May.

The IOC cited Rio’s vision of using sport as a “catalyst for social integration” and said the bid was backed by strong public support, financial guarantees from all levels of government and knowledge and experience from the city’s hosting of the 2007 Pan American Games.

While citing Rio’s “public safety challenges,” the IOC said new anti-crime programs were “already showing positive results.”

The report said transportation plans in Rio would be “critical” and that urban infrastructure projects would need “careful management and monitoring.”

IOC said Rio had an “insufficient” number of hotel rooms, and that its plans for using four villages and six cruise ships would “require particular attention in both the planning and delivery phases.”

Tokyo, which held the Olympics in 1964, drew praise for it compact venue plan and government financial backing but was cited for a “relatively low level of public support” in an IOC opinion poll from February showing support of only 30.3 percent of Tokyo residents.

Madrid, bidding for the second time in a row after losing to London in the race for the 2012 Games, was lauded for its compact layout and readiness of existing venues. But the report criticized Madrid’s bid for not showing “a full understanding of the need for clear delineation of roles and responsibilities, including financial, between different stakeholders.”

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