NEW ORLEANS — The ousted CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee said changing leadership and strained relations with international Olympic officials were "far secondary" factors in Chicago's failed bid host the 2016 Summer Games.
"The headline should be: Rio won the bid. Chicago did not lose the bid and Chicago did not lose by bidding," said Jim Scherr, whose forced resignation in March upset leaders of the various American Olympic teams.
Speaking at the Travel and Management Events in Sports convention in New Orleans on Wednesday, Scherr said Rio de Janeiro had advantages that Chicago couldn't overcome.
For one, he said, many members of the International Olympic Committee believed it was time to grant the games to a city in South America, a continent that has never hosted an Olympics.
"The IOC and the IOC president Jacques Rogge wanted to plant the flag of the Olympic movement and the Olympic Games in South America," Scherr said. "Jacques Rogge wanted that, I believe, as part of his legacy as president of the IOC, to go to another continent with the Olympic Games."
Scherr also noted that organizers in Brazil had steadily refined their bid for a decade, having failed to win the 2004 and 2012 Games, giving them an advantage in forging relationships with IOC members.
"They were in the process far longer than Chicago and any of the other cities. They paid their dues," Scherr said. "They knew the game and they stayed with it. They stayed consistent with their bid and continued to correct deficiencies that the IOC saw."
Yet another edge for Rio was that it hosted the 2007 Pan Am Games, Scherr said. IOC officials were there, giving them a chance to get a sense of the city and its potential. Chicago never had the benefit of such a chance to show itself off to the IOC as the host of a major international sporting event, he said.
Scherr led the USOC for six years, taking over shortly after the Salt Lake City bid scandal. A former Olympic wrestler, Scherr was well liked by the leaders of various U.S. national teams.
When he resigned, he was replaced by Stephanie Streeter, a USOC board member. She had immediate critics within the Olympic movement, who questioned how someone who had a hand in Scherr's departure could then slide into the job he left. Streeter stepped down shortly after Chicago was eliminated in the first round of IOC voting this month.
USOC proposals to start its own Olympic TV network and international resentment over the relatively large share of Olympic revenues that go to the American committee have strained relations in recent years.
Scherr stressed, however, that problems with USOC-IOC relations go back further.
"This wasn't something new in the last six or seven months," Scherr said. "The Salt Lake City bid scandal, what the IOC felt was the over-commercialized Atlanta Games, the Iraq War, America's role in the global economy. ... All of these issues have affected the USOC and its standing in the IOC for a long time.
"If the United States chooses to bid again, it's going to be a very long and difficult process to address those issues so that a U.S. city really has equal footing and an opportunity to win the right to host an Olympic and Paralympic Games."
Scherr said the terms of his resignation prevent him from discussing the reasons behind his decision to step down.
Scherr did characterize the months after his departure as a "difficult time" and has never indicated he wanted to leave.
"That's an organization I ran for a long time and want to support and want to see succeed," Scherr said. "I wish there was a way to assist them in their struggles and I do miss it."
It appears he has moved on. Scherr is launching a new business called 776 Original Marketing – its name a nod to the first Olympics in 776 B.C. Part of the mission of the business is to consult for organizers of – or bidders on – major sporting events.
He said he hoped Chicago would bid for the Olympics again, stressing that, by all accounts, the city "had the best bid in the history of the United States."
"It's a shame that the world won't be coming to Chicago in 2016 because Chicago is the ideal city to host an Olympic games," Scherr said. "I'd love for them to keep going."