THE INFLUENCE GAME: Lobbying to land the Olympics

WASHINGTON — Bringing the Olympics to the United States is a cause most American politicians can support. Still, the Chicago 2016 organizing committee figures a little prodding couldn’t hurt.

WASHINGTON — Bringing the Olympics to the United States is a cause most American politicians can support. Still, the Chicago 2016 organizing committee figures a little prodding couldn’t hurt. The group has spent $420,000 on pressing its case in Washington since the second half of 2007, when it hired lobbying firm Dutko Worldwide LLC, through the end of last year. Much of the effort was aimed at getting public officials on board with persuading the International Olympic Committee. That included generating letters and resolutions of support from members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries and others, and sending them to the IOC as part of its bid submission. The U.S. Olympic Committee, meanwhile, spent a similar sum on lobbying through the end of last year. Its work focused on ensuring a smooth U.S. visa process for visiting athletes, coaches and officials, and securing federal money for its Paralympic Military Program for disabled veterans and military service members. The IOC is in Chicago this week, its first stop on its tour of potential host cities. The other finalists are Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo. Chicago 2016 spokesman Patrick Sandusky said the group will spend significantly less on lobbying this year. It now has a built-in ally in President Barack Obama, a longtime Chicago resident, and its work soliciting letters and resolutions for the bid book sent to the IOC in February is done. That book included a Jan. 15 letter from Obama, and he also appeared in a video message on behalf of the effort last year. In fact, Obama could deliver the biggest coup for Chicago 2016 if he goes to Copenhagen for the final presentation to the IOC in October, when a host city will be selected. In his letter to IOC president Jacques Rogge, Obama calls the Olympics "an opportunity for our nation to reach out, welcome the world to our shores and strengthen our friendships across the globe." "The president has been a vocal and ardent supporter of the bid from its inception, from the days he was a senator," said Sandusky. "We can’t speak to the president’s schedule, but we certainly made them aware of the date, and would certainly welcome his attendance should he be able to make it." Heads of state can play a key role in the Olympic selection process. An in-person push by British Prime Minister Tony Blair was seen as a factor in helping London land the 2012 Games. Sandusky said Dutko Worldwide helped generate resolutions and letters of support from not only federal officials but organizations representing governors, mayors and county officials, to demonstrate a broad government support. The lobbying effort also included seeking government subsidies for security. The bid book, which cites U.S. House and Senate resolutions backing Chicago’s quest, brags, "Chicago 2016 enjoys unified government support, with leaders and political parties at the national, state and local levels wholeheartedly endorsing Chicago’s bid for the Olympic and Paralympic Games … All levels of government are aligned behind the city’s candidature, and binding agreements assure the effective coordination of governmental authorities." Olympic historian David Wallechinsky said the IOC looks at government support in reviewing a city’s bid. "The United States is unusual in that we don’t have government funding for athletes, and for the USOC in general," Wallechinsky said. "So the IOC needs to be convinced that the U.S. government is behind this." He said that the letters and resolutions of support are a minimum requirement. But without them, the bid would look flat. "It’s good ground work for Chicago to be doing this," said Dick Pound, an IOC member since 1978 from Canada. He said a divided vote by the Toronto City Council in 1990 to submit a bid for the ’96 Summer Olympics helped derail that effort. The IOC wound up awarding the games to Atlanta, Pound said, partly because, "Atlanta came in rah-rah-rah, rah-rah-rah." USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said much of his group’s lobbying work on the 2016 bid is geared to the Olympic Leader Travel Program, which works to ensure that international athletes, coaches and officials destined for the U.S. for competition can come here. "The ability to ensure access to our country is an important consideration for athletes and officials in international sport," he said. He said sometimes visiting teams will be named at a very late date. "We want to make certain the (entry) process is as efficient as possible," Seibel said. Sandusky said that Chicago 2016’s lobbying also involves working with the government to "ensure ease of entry for all athletes, coaches and officials" from Olympic nations. Wallechinsky said that was an important consideration for the IOC. "They don’t want to run into a situation where they get the sense that the U.S. government will balk at visas for athletes from Cuba or North Korea," he said. Pound said he had no doubt that similar domestic lobbying efforts were taking place in Brazil, Spain and Japan. "Almost every candidate city requires quite a lot of help from its national government," he said. "So you can be sure they’re all working to achieve that." ______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

About Post Author


From the Web

Skip to content