US President Barack Obama will travel to Copenhagen to support the bid by the city of Chicago to host the 2016 Olympic Games.
He will join his wife, Michelle, and other administration members at the International Olympic Committee meeting in the Danish capital on Thursday.
Chicago faces opposition from Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.
These bids are now being run like election campaigns, by hard-nosed political strategists working out tactics for grabbing the second or even third preference votes that will be crucial to the chances of any of the bidders.
Strict IOC rules dictate the boundaries of what is permitted, and transgressing them could be fatal. Expenses-paid trips to bid cities for voting members – with freebies ranging from the odd case of wine to dental work to scholarships for offspring – were banned after the Salt Lake City “votes for gifts” scandal.
However, one of the unexpected consequences of the ban on members’ visits seems to be that if you cannot go to the city, the city now comes to you, with half the nation’s politicians, sports stars and famous alumni in tow. Correspondents say the impact of star personalities on Olympic bids was demonstrated when lobbying by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2005 helped London win the 2012 Games, and RussianPresident Vladimir Putin led Sochi’s bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics in 2007.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva expressed hope yesterday that he would “return from Copenhagen with a victory”.
“This is a fight. And if we don’t win, we’ll have to prepare for another one.”
Mr Obama, who was senator for Illinois and lived in Chicago before his election to the White House, will be the first sitting US president to take on such a direct role in an Olympic bid. He will be joined on Friday by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who are both from Illinois.
Mr Obama had reportedly told IOC chief Jacques Rogge last week that the pressure of his push for healthcare reform would prevent him from attending the meeting.
The race to host the 2016 Olympics has been described as one of the closest in history.
But Chicago, with President Obama’s overt support, could be considered a slight favourite.
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