Politicians can make or break Games

October 2, 2009 12:00 am

, COPENHAGEN, Oct 2 – Presidents and prime ministers can make an Olympic bid with a little, well-timed sweet talk.

However, they can also break it with one embarrassing slip of the tongue.

For every Tony Blair, in the case of London and the 2012 Games, and Vladimir Putin, for Sochi and the 2014 Winter Games, there are cases when bid cities wished their political masters had kept their mouths shut.

So as the curtain comes down over lobbying for the right to host the 2016 Olympics, Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo will be praying that their politicians look before they leap into any potential diplomatic minefield.

Chicago’s long serving Mayor Richard M Daley has been through many elections and many press conferences.

However, it didn’t seem that way on Tuesday when it was revealed that Rio had been angered by his implication that they were not up to hosting the Olympics.

Asked at a press conference to respond, he replied tersely: "No comment."

He may have looked distinctly uncomfortable but at least he had not made a complete howler such as Toronto counterpart Mel Lastman when the Canadian city ran for the 2008 Summer Games.

"What the hell do I want to go to a place like Mombasa for?" he asked, prior to going on a lobbying trip for votes in Africa.

"Snakes just scare the hell out me. I’m sort of scared about going there, but the wife is really scared. I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with a lot of natives dancing round me."

Lastman’s intended joke backfired. Despite issuing an apology, Toronto never recovered and was overwhelmed by Beijing when the IOC votes were cast in 2001.

The Paris 2012 bid team too would have preferred that former President Jacques Chirac had kept his own counsel when discussing the merits of various countries’ cuisine in 2005.

An unknowing Chirac was caught on microphone deriding the quality of British food, believing it to be just above Finland.

He ended up eating humble pie as the two Finnish IOC members switched allegiance at the vote which London won.

This time round there have been no desperate slips.

However, Japanese officials probably wish that the Governor of Tokyo had not got so excited about the environment at a reception on Wednesday which was also a belated celebration of his 77th birthday.

"I think this (the 2016 Games) could be the last for mankind," said Shintaro Ishihara, a statement which would have stunned his fellow bid members who had been speaking of leaving a legacy that will last for at least the rest of the century.

"However, more realistically we have to come up with measures without which the Olympics cannot last long.

"Tokyo is prepared to do everything to create the best conditions for the athletes environmentally speaking.

"But if things are left unattended the Olympic Games will not continue for long.

"I want people to make choices with consideration for the environment.

"Global warming is getting worse. Scientists have said that the earth has passed the point of no return."


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