Skip to main content

Does losing the 2016 Olympics mean Obama is losing his influence abroad?


Obama speaks to the press about his attempt to pitch Chicago to the IOC as host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Critics warn that he risked and spent a significant portion of his political capital by embarking on his whirlwind, five-hour trip to Copenhagen. Obama said he does not regret it, however. (Photo: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Chicago pulled out all the stops as the fateful vote October 2nd that would determine the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. In addition to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, as well as local celebrity Oprah Winfrey, the First Couple also traveled to Copenhagen to personally support their hometown in its Olympic ambition. Chicago's most internationally-known resident, U.S. President Barack Obama, hoped to use his global charisma to boost the city's chances of winning the bid.

Long before noon struck, however, Chicago had turned out to be the third runner-up, Tokyo eliminated soon after. With the competition whittled down to Madrid, Spain or Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) finally chose the latter. As viable a candidate city as any other, Rio had the additional sympathy of hoping to become the first Olympic location in the history of South America, in addition to having had already built structures for multiple venues, according to CNN.

Olympics and politics are not linked by Obama's personal trip

Obama has reportedly been disappointed by the apparent failure of Chicago's charm offensive, but said that he "could not be prouder" of his hometown, according to CNN. Critics have said that there may be consequences that Obama may have to face for returning empty-handed after being accused of leaving major national issues unresolved to pitch the Olympic bid.

Nevertheless, the failure of Chicago to secure the final bid, or even first runner-up, does not necessarily signal a decline in international support for Obama. Though there has been speculation and accusations that the sport and choice of venue has been intertwined with shady politics, particularly in Chicago, the Obamas' personal trips to Copenhagen have indeed little to do with the politics of the IOC.

Spain's royal couple also made their way to Denmark, as did the Brazilian president along with soccer legend Pele, and the Prime Minister of Japan. All made personal appeals to the IOC, and these three countries were stacked up against the juggernaught of the "Obama factor" which continues to resonate abroad even if it may be lower stateside.

No Olympics, no consequences

Republicans and others critical of Obama's policies at home may seek to take the president to task, but ultimately, whether or not the U.S. gets the bid, and whether or not the leadership takes a personal stake in such Olympic ambitions, politics and law will continue domestically as well.

In the time Obama spent in Denmark, the U.S. Congress did not pass any conclusive legislation on the primary issues affecting and stirring debate nationwide - involvement in Afghanistan, health care reform, or the faltering economy - yet, realistically, neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives need the President of the United States to be present during such debate and vote.

Obama's worldwide charm has not lost its strength, and ultimately, the IOC vote to elevate Rio de Janeiro to the status of host for the 2016 Summer Olympics ultimately has little bearing on his influence in foreign policy and international relations.

When other world leaders meet with Obama, the 2016 Olympics bid is unlikely to come up in meaningful conversation, especially as Iran and North Korea continue their defiance over their nuclear programs and Russia must be dealt with now that the plans for a missile shield in Central Europe have been withdrawn and Moscow is more likely to engage and cooperate with Washington.

Obama might hear from his domestic critics about failing to bring back the 2016 Olympics, but he is unlikely to face new obstacles, particularly in his foreign policy vis-a-vis other countries.