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Rio’s case for games: Not only are we the best site, picking Brazil is the right thing to do

September 29th, 2009
People relax at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009. (AP Photo/David Oziel) (David Oziel, AP)

People relax at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009. (AP Photo/David Oziel) (David Oziel, AP)

Brazilians are confident that if the International Olympic Committee practices what it preaches, then Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Summer Games.

After all, a defining principle of the modern IOC is “universality” — the idea that every country should have the chance to participate actively in what it calls the Olympic Movement. Another of its buzzwords is “legacy” — the concept that hosting an Olympics is not just a two-week spectacle but a catalyst for remaking a city, a country and a people.

When the IOC’s 100 or so members choose from among 2016 finalists Rio, Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo on Friday, the Brazilians think they’ve got their rivals beat on both counts.

South America has never hosted an Olympics — which Rio’s charismatic bid team will certainly remind the IOC at every turn this week — and the games could play a part in transforming the world’s favorite party city, but also one with crime-ridden slums.

“No other city needs to host an Olympics,” Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said last week in New York. “Brazil needs it.”

Spoiled for choice, the IOC might go for making what’s seen as a blow for social change.

“In principle, yes, it would be nice for the universality of the games that we go to a new continent that has never organized games,” IOC executive board member Denis Oswald said in a recent interview. “But only if we are confident that all the technical and other requirements are met.”

In practice, universality has meant traditional Olympic powers in Europe and North America conceding some entries to athletes from developing nations, many of whom go on IOC-funded training programs to help get them to the show.

It is largely the reason that Afghanistan won a first-ever medal in Beijing last year. Rohullah Nikpai won bronze in the taekwondo under-58 kilogram (128 pounds) weight class after he spent 45 days training in South Korea with the backing of its national Olympic committee.

Giving the games to an emerging nation in a new part of the world for the Olympics would expand the concept of universality immeasurably.

Rio’s team understands this. When the four finalist cities came to Lausanne, Switzerland, to make presentations in June, Rio’s team made its formal pitch using a world map marked with dots to show cities that have hosted a Summer or Winter Games. South America was blank.

Senior IOC member Dick Pound explained then that previously no South American city had the stadiums and infrastructure to cope. But the Canadian official recently agreed that “for the first time, (South America) is a realistic choice.”

Rio’s Olympic concept follows its hosting plan for the 2007 Pan American Games.

However, some promised transport links did not materialize two years ago and the Olympic bid calls for capital investment of $11.1 billion — half earmarked for road, tunnel and rail projects — without allowing for typical delays and budget overruns.

The 2007 security plan would be repeated. Back then, 15,000 police, plus agents of the elite National Force, were deployed to calm the city’s streets for an estimated 700,000 visitors. The Pan-Ams were free of major incident and Rio points to its annual success welcoming the world for Carnival and New Year celebrations.

Yet the IOC harbors concerns. An evaluation team was sent to visit all four bid cities in the spring and its report noted that Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo are “capable of providing the level of security and safety required for the games.” Rio’s report card had no such praise. On Monday, it was announced that Brazil’s justice minister, Tarso Genro, will go to Copenhagen to address any lingering worries.

While Rio would face undoubted challenges to meet hosting standards, the IOC might decide that many teething troubles and pre-event anxieties could be borne by soccer’s world governing body FIFA.

When Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup, the only sports event to rival the Summer Olympics for scale and global attention, Rio’s fabled Maracana stadium will be the venue for the final, and the city home to FIFA’s administration.

As such, the World Cup could serve as a spectacular test event, giving Rio’s organizing committee two years to work out what its needs to change and finesse.

That committee would be headed by Carlos Arthur Nuzman, an elegant and experienced IOC member who presides over the bid committee and sees potential benefits for the whole country.

“We are certain that the Rio 2016 project, as well as making a difference to the Olympic Movement, will also positively influence the socio-economic trajectory of Brazil,” he said. Nuzman was responding to a University Of Sao Paulo study which aimed to show that for each $1 invested, $3.26 would be generated across the nation by 2027.

Rio de Janeiro state Governor Sergio Cabral, speaking to the Brazilian sports daily Lance before flying to Copenhagen, agreed.

“The legacy for Rio will be extraordinary,” he said. “So what do Rio citizens get? They get more with improved environment, subway system, urban streets, accommodation, more jobs, new forms of entertainment, a modernized airport, new sporting facilities, international visibility.”

Brazilians hope hard-to-read IOC voters think the citizens of Rio need those things more than people in Chicago, Madrid or Tokyo.

Associated Press Writer Tales Azzoni in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report

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