October 2nd, 2009
10:00 AM ET

Will IOC members vote with heads or hearts?

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - The bid cities are making their final presentations to members of the International Olympic Committee right now and you can feel the tension and the sense of anticipation in the air.

U.S. President Barack Obama is in Copenhagen to pitch for Chicago's bid. (AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
U.S. President Barack Obama is in Copenhagen to pitch for Chicago's bid. (AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Around me, in the media hub of the Bella Center, are hundreds of journalists from all over the world, most of them from the countries which are vying for the Games. Every now and then I hear one of their reporters live on air. It really feels like I am in the eye of the storm here.

Everyone has been speculating about who is going to win. There are four really strong candidates and the chances are the host city for the 2016 Games will not be decided in the first round of voting. This, my friends, is going down to the wire.

Who will be the final two bids standing? Well, in my opinion, it will come down to a duel between Rio de Janeiro and Chicago. The Brazilian city could make history by becoming the first in South America to host the Games.

Sport in this region has developed a lot in the last decade, and the fact that the economic situation has also improved means that this continent is finally ready to receive the Olympics.

With Chicago, the IOC knows it has a safe bet. Three American cities have already hosted the Games, and the United States has the experience and know-how needed to organize a great event.

Furthermore, the money the IOC could make from TV deals with American networks will exceed any amount received from channels from other countries. And we all know money talks, right? So it will basically come down to whether the IOC members vote with their hearts of their heads.

The heart calls for Rio, the head for Chicago.

What about the others? Well Madrid has a shot. A realistic shot. Over 70 percent of Olympic venues are already in place or have started to be built in the Spanish capital so from an infrastructure standpoint, it is a very strong bid. Its main problem is the fact that the previous Games will also be held in Europe. if London were not organizing the 2012 Olympics, then Madrid could be the frontrunner.

As far as Tokyo is concerned, this is a long shot. The bid has lacked passion and the last media activities here in Copenhagen have reflected that. The fact the 2008 Games were in Beijing is also a disadvantage.

Its strength is the green and environmentally-friendly approach. The Japanese city has presented a plan for an Olympic stadium run entirely on solar energy.

So the scene is set. As the presentations are made, we follow them with great interest. Who will win? Watch this space...

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Filed under:  Olympics
August 13th, 2009
06:46 PM ET

Money Money Money should be new Olympic motto

So now we have it, the final confirmation that the Olympic motto of "citius, altius, fortius" - or faster, higher, stronger - counts for absolutely nothing when it comes to the selection of sports for inclusion in the 2016 program and beyond.

Golfer John Daly, infamous for his off-course excesses, is regularly seen smoking while playing.
Golfer John Daly, infamous for his off-course excesses, is regularly seen smoking while playing.

With the greatest of respect to golf, and I happen to believe that Tiger Woods lays claim to being the greatest sportsman of all time, it no more fits that Olympic ideal than an energetic game of tiddlywinks.

I have this vision of a by-then 50-year-old John Daly chain-smoking his way to gold at the 2016 Games, his not inconsiderable belly peaking over a set of garish trousers in the colors of the United States of America, with the silver going to Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez, giant cigar in one hand, and bronze to 66-year-old Tom Watson, revived after his second artificial hip operation.

More than likely, the gold will be won by Tiger, but in his heart of hearts how will it rate against breaking Jack Nicklaus' record for 18 major titles, as he surely will, sinking the winning putt at the Augusta Masters, claiming the British Open at St Andrew's or the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach ?

Which brings me to my second argument, and leave aside questions of athletic ability, the strongest argument for Olympic inclusion should be that winning a gold medal must be the very pinnacle in their respective sport.

Think of the runner Paula Radcliffe's abject misery after failing to win the women's marathon at the Athens Olympics. She would willingly, I am sure, swap all her world records just to get her hands on gold, just once.

And however much professional tennis players and now golfers enjoy playing for the countries at the Olympics, it remains a secondary ambition - whatever Colin Montgomerie might have told the IOC in golf's apparently impressive presentation to the executive board. So what's it to be Monty, an Olympic gold in golf or winning the major that has always eluded you ? I think I know the answer.

Which is why I cannot find a vestige of enthusiasm for the inclusion of rugby sevens, a game requiring considerable physical ability, but just a watered-down version of the proper 15-a-side game, which has its own World Cup and Tri-Nations and Six Nations titles as the highest honors in its sport.

In fairness to the IOC executive board, the opposition to golf and rugby sevens was not terribly strong, with baseball and softball, whatever their advocates might say, played in too few countries and having been hardly a roaring success with their inclusion in previous Olympics to satisfy the American television audience which pays the IOC a hefty sum for the rights.

Karate undoubtedly had a case. However, it's a sport which might look good in Bruce Lee films, but like Taekwondo is rather disappointing visually and full of obscure rules which make it difficult to understand, which brings me to squash and roller sports.

Most people believe that squash is already in the Olympics because it's the sort of sport that should be, requiring immense skill, stamina and courage, played by some of the fittest sportsman in the world and in most countries in the world.

While roller sports - and I used to be very sniffy about the Extreme Games and the like - captures the imagination of youngsters all over the world in a way that, quite frankly, golf and rugby sevens will never do.

But of course they never had a chance against the cash-rich federations representing golf and rugby and the vested commercial interests which are threatening to undermine the Olympic ethos. They should have a new motto: Money Money Money.

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Filed under:  Golf • Olympics • Rugby
July 28th, 2009
03:41 PM ET

Three years to go... much to be done

LONDON, England - It is hard to believe that all of the dirt, mud, and blocks of concrete at the "Olympic Park" will, in three years, be a fresh new space with gleaming buildings, green trees and grass fit to host the biggest carnival in World Sport. Are they really going to finish in time? Can they turn all of this into roadways and landscaping in time for 2012? It is a vast space, and it seems like there is just so much to do in such a short space of time. For the media invited to an open day, on the three-year anniversary before the start of the event, such questions of doubt would need some reassurance to not resurface in news reports over the coming days.

Dignitaries including London Mayor Boris Johnson and the chairman of the London 2012 Olympic Committee Seb Coe look at the stadium rising from the mud.
Dignitaries including London Mayor Boris Johnson and the chairman of the London 2012 Olympic Committee Seb Coe look at the stadium rising from the mud.

One shiny, gleaming promise that has already been delivered is the "Javelin" high-speed train which will take 25,000 visitors an hour from central London to the Olympic Park. Riding it is a treat - it is quick (225kph), modern, and clean - and the journey time of the 10km route was only seven minutes. It's door-to-door service from one brand new station to another.

Cranes and construction sounds welcome travelers who leave the train and head towards the Olympic Park - to the right are the unfinished, empty high-rise skeletons of the athletes' village, to the left random concrete pylons stick from the ground. Maybe it was the cold and rain that led to a pessimistic mindset but thoughts wandered again towards the mountainous task of meeting the Olympic deadline and whether tourists will have to pack winter clothes for a "summer" Games.

People measure progress in different ways on construction sites. Most of us see buildings popping out of the ground as a sign that things are moving along. But we don't think about all the preparation that's had to be done in the ground - the laying of electric cables, the dredging of rivers, the clean-up of waste and contamination - before they can even build those buildings.

In the final analysis the consensus was that progress was on track and within budget. The sun finally broke through by the end of the trip and the big white clouds seemed to carry away any doubts about whether this place will be ready by 2012. But then a thick drop of water fell on the top on my head from the unfinished stadium - a reminder that a lot more still needs to be done.

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Filed under:  Olympics
April 24th, 2009
02:19 PM ET

Olympic hopes help beat recession blues

LONDON, England (CNN) - There was a strong sense of irony in the location the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose to announce their latest assessment of the progress London had made towards a successful hosting of the 2012 Olympics.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/24/art.iocpresser.gi.jpg caption="Denis Oswald, chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission, relays his good news"]

To set the scene, it was barely 24 hours since the British finance minister, Alistair Darling, had announced the need to borrow $257 billion over the next year to aid an economy wracked by recession.

Cold fiscal winds have blown around the world and London, arguably one of the epicentres of the global credit-crunch catastrophe, along with Britain more widely, is feeling its icy chill.

Yet here I stood, in the capital's Docklands financial district, amongst the myriad of glass-skinned, towered-office homes of many of the world's largest banks to hear how further billions were to be spent in the name of sport.

The British government have estimated playing home to the four-yearly Olympiad will cost in the region of $14 billion, an eye-watering figure in prosperous times, let alone the austere age of 2009.

Yet the marbled lobby area and subsequent plush pressroom, far from being doom-laden, held only happy faces and good news.

Despite the best efforts of hardened hacks to concentrate on negative notions, potential problems and rising costs the overall message that London was not only progressing well, but in many areas was ahead of schedule, just could not be suppressed.

"We were really deeply impressed by the progress made in the construction of different venues," a satisfied-looking Denis Oswald, chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission, said.

"We know that everything is on time and this gives a very good feeling three years before the Games."

Oswald had given the Local Organising Committee for the 2012 Olympic Games (LOCOG) a mark of 9.5 out of 10 on his previous visit. This time, when back for a fourth look around the five major venue-construction sites for the Games, London was "very close to 10."

And as the welcome, April sunshine warmed the skin during a short amble back to the subterranean climes of the underground (subway) station it was hard not to hope the ringing endorsements from the IOC could pave the way for an Olympic show in 2012, worthy of the precious investment it is receiving.

Filed under:  Olympics
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