African committee hears Obama 2016 pitch

July 7, 2009 A delegation from Chicago's 2016 team made a presentation at the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa. That group is meeting in Nigeria, where they heard a message from Obama.

"From the very beginning I have fully supported Chicago's bid for the 2016 Games. If Chicago is selected for this honor, we will insure that the Olympic and Paralympic Games are a key priority for our nation," Obama said.

Chicago is among four cities competing for the 2016 Summer Games. The International Olympic Committee makes its decision in October.

It's not that different from a race for alderman. But in this election there are only 107 voters. They are from different countries all over the world, and most are from a continent with a city in the race. For example, European IOC members may be inclined to support Madrid. Asian members may back Tokyo. There is one continent whose members are not aligned: Africa. Chicago's bid team traveled to Abuja, Nigeria, to meet with Africa's 16 IOC members, who may hold the swing votes.

Chicago's bid team has visited more than 40 cities across the globe, from Singapore to South Korea, England to Egypt, all with the goal of picking up votes one by one. It is ward politics on a global scale.

"I think it's a really unique opportunity to take Chicago to the world instead of having the world come here to tell our story," said Lori Healey, Chicago 2016 president.

Chicago 2016 has an entire team devoted to wooing IOC members and an elaborate system of tracking the contacts.

Waleed Elgindy recently arranged for a meeting between bid leader Pat Ryan and a Tunisian swimmer who has the ear of his country's IOC member.

"We believe one of our key strengths if our ability to connect with the members in their own language," said Elgindy, Chicago 2016 international relations.

"I think if Obama come, I think some possibilities," said Lassana Palenfo, African Olympic Committees president, on June 18.

While Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is met by angry aldermen and a cynical press corps in Chicago, when he is overseas, he woos international media. Interviews generate stories promoting the city and its Olympic bid.

"Bid rules no longer allow members of the IOC to come to your city, so creating that profile in the international media is an opportunity to showcase all you have to offer," said Darryl Seibel, former US Olympic spokesman and Chicago consultant.

To be the victor, a city needs to win a majority of the 107 votes.

Typically, that doesn't happen in the first round, so the lowest vote getter is knocked out, and IOC members vote again. That is why IOC members are courted even if they're from a region with a city in the race. If that city is cut early, its supporters can then win it for their second-choice city.

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