President Barack Obama learnt a harsh lesson about the politics of sport today after Chicago made a shock early exit in the race to become the host of the 2016 Olympics.
The members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) delivered a clear message to the American President and his wife that their 8,000-mile journey to court their vote in person had been a waste of time.
In the first round of voting in Copenhagen to decide among the four bidding cities, it was Chicago and not Tokyo that fell out of contention, leaving Rio de Janeiro and Madrid to fight out the Latin vote in a gripping finale.
The stunned silence among the crowd gathered in Daley plaza in Chicago to celebrate what they expected to be a run-away victory symbolised the unbelieving reaction of America that the IOC members could deliver such a public humiliation.
It is the biggest international setback yet for President Obama’s administration and the IOC dragged him halfway across the world to deliver it at a crucial time for his domestic agenda.
He and the First Lady, who both put themselves personally on the line to address the IOC, had not even landed back in Washington when the fate of the Chicago bid was sealed.
The reaction in the US was one of stunned disbelief. Cable news channels carried live footage of a massive and expectant crowd in Chicago's Daley Plaza greeting the news with silence. Within minutes thousands were streaming for the exits. It was in total contrast to Mr Obama's joyous election night rally.
News anchors expressed utter surprise at Chicago's dismal showing. They all described their firm belief that the contest - after Mr Obama's intervention - would be between his home town and Rio.
The close contest had earlier become a battle of rhetoric between Mr Obama and President Lula da Silva of Brazil to convince 106 IOC members of their worth in hosting the world’s largest sports event.
Mr Obama was the first to the podium at the Bella Convention Centre in Copenhagen to argue for the United States as an accessible and multi-ethnic nation that would be a safe and financially lucrative place to host the Games.
After a statesman-like speech to be expected of a seasoned orator, Mr Obama told the IOC that America was ready to re-engage with the world after years when its sense of diversity had not been reflected abroad.
During an eight-minute pitch, the President spoke about his African roots, his Hawaii upbringing and how he finally “fell in love” with Chicago and found his home in the Midwestern city.
“It is a rich tapestry of neighbourhoods,” he said, referring to Greek, Latino and Ukrainian districts. He also talked up Chicago’s sporting credentials and established infrastructure. “It is a city that works. We know how to put on big events and scores of spectators and visitors will tell you we do it well. If you choose us we walk this path together.”
But the man considered the best speechmaker in contemporary politics was given a run for his money by Mr Lula da Silva, batting for Rio and the first Games to ever be held in South America.
There vote might have been split on the quality of delivery, but IOC members would have been in no doubt about who had the most compelling message.
Mr Lula da Silva said: “I honestly think it is Brazil's turn. It is South America's bid. This is a continent that has never held the Games. It is time to address this imbalance. It is time to light the Olympic cauldron in a tropical country.”
Sepp Blatter, the chief executive of Fifa, the world governing body for football, said Mr Lula da Silva’s speech “went under his skin”. Other IOC members may agree. Of the four bidding cities, Rio is the only one that offers them the chance to make Olympic history – something they may feel compelled to do if they follow their hearts.
Rio bid chiefs held the inspirational trump card and offered a stunning visual backdrop for the Games. But the real selling point is access to a young population on a continent that has yet to be touched directly by the Olympic movement.
Brazil is the only one of the world's 10 most powerful nations to have never staged the Games and has a rising status in the G20 reflecting its rapid growth that will place it in the top five by 2016, according to the World Bank.
“When you push the button today, you have the chance to inspire a new continent, make Olympic history,” Carlos Nuzman, Rio bid chief executive and an IOC member, said. “Vote Rio, and we offer a gateway to 180 million passionate young people in South America.”
Click to view image: '2016 FAIL'
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