In a bow towards global inclusiveness, the International Olympic Committee voted for Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The decision deserves to be celebrated not just by Brazilians: it marks the end of a longstanding script that, for whatever reason, shut South America out of the list of Games’ hosts. That the IOC session in Copenhagen overwhelmingly picked Rio ahead of Chicago and Tokyo, not to speak of Madrid, which lost 32-66 in a direct contest in the final round of voting, is significant. The Brazilian triumph is of course a reflection of the growing economic stature of the world’s fifth most populous nation (the ‘B’ in BRIC, the four-member grouping of fast-growing developing economies). As important is the consideration that the Games might leave an all-round sports legacy for a nation that has an iconic status in football, samba, and the Carnival. Unfortunately, the city of more than six million is also known for its crime and violence, which is why it scored poorly in safety and security when an IOC expert group analysed the bids of each of the seven original contestants against 11 criteria. As against this, Rio top-scored in government support and public opinion. The Brazilians have expressed the hope that the Games would help curb crime and solve transport, traffic, and accommodation problems in addition to providing employment opportunities over the next seven years. But in the final analysis, it was probably the emotional appeal of spreading the Games to South America, coupled with Rio’s inspired slogan, “live your passion,” that settled the issue.
The first-round elimination of Chicago — the one contest lost by master campaigner Barack Obama, who sportingly took time off his busy presidential schedule to lobby for his adopted hometown — was seen as a legacy of the Salt Lake City bribery scandal of 1998. The proposal of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to create an exclusive Olympic television network may also have hastened the exit of Chicago, which was the bookmakers’ favourite. The IOC gets the bulk of its revenue, running into billions of dollars, from television rights every four years. The ever-spiralling cost of holding the Olympics has remained a matter of concern for the IOC with Beijing reportedly running up a bill of $40 billion for a Perfect 10 edition of the 29th Olympiad. Notwithstanding claims to the contrary, host cities have run up huge deficits in the past, Montreal in 1976 and Athens in 2004 being prime examples. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who along with the great Pele shed tears when IOC President Jacques Rogge made the announcement in Copenhagen, has plenty of hard work ahead of him.