Can President Obama's charisma pull it for Chicago

Can President Obama's charisma pull it for Chicago

IOC to choose host city for 2016 Olympics today in Copenhagen

Barack Obama

The stakes could hardly be higher when more than 100 IOC members gather at Copenhagen's Bella Convention Centre to choose between the rival bids of Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.

Though the contest has long been regarded by most Olympic experts as the closest ever, with four potential winners in the field, there is no doubt that the Obama factor weighs heavily and has ensured Chicago takes the role of front-runner.

No incumbent US President has ever addressed an IOC session before but Barack Obama has taken the boldest of risks to his political reputation by deciding to appear in person to back his home city campaign.

While he flies in overnight from Washington and goes straight into the IOC session, First Lady Michelle Obama will have been in the Danish capital for 48 hours, conducting a breathless series of one-on-one meetings with voting IOC members.

It is probably the biggest persuasion-by-charisma campaign ever undertaken in the Olympic movement. The Obama factor may be Chicago's trump card but that does not mean the Windy City's three rivals are giving up the ghost. Madrid claim by sending both King Juan Carlos and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero they are actually trumping Obama.

Tokyo have newly elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama flying in late on Thursday to join their bid team and Rio think they have charisma to spare by bringing in Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.  In a news conference on Thursday, Lula cunningly took a leaf out of Obama's own electioneeering manual by using his "Yes, we can" rallying cry.

"This time we look at the world and say yes we can, we can do it," he said, adding the country's 'magical' financial growth and relatively shallow recession made it the standout candidate.

London bookmakers have made Chicago the favourite with Rio the main challenger and Madrid the outsider behind Tokyo.  However, the Olympic selection procedure is almost notoriously unpredictable with members voting by secret ballot in a series of rounds until one candidate gets more than 50 percent. In recent years, the front-runner has often come unstuck.

Beyond the personalities -- and the four candidates have all brought a clutch of sporting and cultural celebrities with them -- each bid has produced a technically strong plan of stadiums and infrastructure.

But each has its advantages and its handicaps in the eyes of the IOC.  Chicago would maximise sponsorship and TV rights revenues but has to live with the legacy of the 1996 Atlanta Games, the last Summer Olympics staged in the US and generally regarded as the most disastrous with a host of organisational failures.

Rio would be the first South American city to stage the Games but has a horrendous crime rate.