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Pele, Rio Undaunted By Obama's Olympics Lobbying

JAN M. OLSEN   09/29/09 10:13 AM ET   AP

Pele

COPENHAGEN — Brazilian soccer great Pele isn't worried President Barack Obama's star power could help Chicago win the bid for the 2016 Olympics at the expense of Rio de Janeiro.

Rio is seen as a slight favorite ahead of Friday's vote by the International Olympic Committee, but Obama's decision to fly into Copenhagen for the final presentation could swing the ballot in Chicago's favor. Madrid and Tokyo are the other candidates.

However, Pele said Tuesday that Rio "doesn't compete with Obama. We are competing against Madrid, against Tokyo, against Chicago."

The 68-year-old Pele pointed out that Rio is also bringing some big names.

"If they have Obama, we have Lula, we have Pele," he said, referring to Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Obama announced Monday that he will go to Copenhagen, joining first lady Michelle Obama to support his adopted home town's bid.

Rio also has a charismatic bid team, and is arguing that it is South American's turn to host its first Olympics.

"We have some reason to believe in Rio de Janeiro, not only Rio but South America, because we have never had the Olympics," Pele said after watching Danish teenagers playing soccer in two Copenhagen neighborhoods.

Rio gained IOC praise for having strong public support, a stable economy and experience from hosting the Pan American Games in 2007. Rio also is hoping to gain points for its fun-loving people and natural beauty, with mountains covered with thick green jungle towering above gorgeous beaches.

The Brazilian candidate has been successful in reducing crime recently, but news about crime in Brazil's second-largest city remains a common occurrence.

"Rio doesn't have any problems," Pele said. "The city, the economy is very good. The only country that didn't suffer with the (financial crisis) is Brazil."

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Filed by Ben Goldberger  |