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Pre-vote, Brazil leader wary of Obama factor

October 11th, 2009

Lula Olympic GamesBut Silva felt as if Rio had good shot to win because S. America had never had Games

Brazil’s president feared Barack Obama’s star power could have prevented Rio de Janeiro from landing the 2016 Olympics.

“I confess to you that we were very worried when Obama arrived in Copenhagen,” President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said. “We were very worried because the American presence was a very important thing.”

But Silva added that his best argument to counter Obama’s last-minute lobbying ahead of last week’s vote was that the United States had already held the Games several times and no South American nation ever had.

Chicago ended up losing in the first round of the International Olympic Committee vote despite the lobbying by Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. After Tokyo went out in the second round, Rio beat Madrid in the final.

Silva said he spent two full years lobbying for the Games with pleas to Olympic voting delegates and foreign officials — underscoring the increasing importance that national leaders play in winning the Games.

Silva chose the tactic after then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair was widely credited with securing London’s victory over Paris in the 2005 vote for the 2012 Olympics.

“I had learned a lesson that France lost to England because Tony Blair dedicated himself to talking with delegates,” Silva said in a speech in the capital of Brasilia Thursday night.

When IOC delegates were ill, for example, Blair called them at hospitals to wish them a speedy recovery.

During the last two years, Silva said he brought up the Olympics as his first point of discussion with every foreign official he met in Brazil. During the period, Silva had more than 50 visits from heads of state.

He also sent letters to prime ministers, presidents and every Olympic delegate.

“Because of that I was way in front, I felt sure of that,” Silva said.

ALAN CLENDENNING Associated Press Writer

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