Rio de Janeiro
The International Olympic Selection Committee just completed a week long visit here and if the buzz at the Copacabana Palace Hotel is any indication, prospects seem good that the Olympics will come to South America for the first time.
Chicago, Tokyo and Madrid are competing with Rio. But the economic crisis has stretched infrastructure and sports marketing budgets in the Northern Hemisphere and Brazil, one of the emerging G20 economies, already has the knack of doing more with less. The Rio city government has put up a big countdown pylon on Copacabana beach tracking the days until October 2nd, when the IOC will announce the winner.
Rio's Olympic slogan is "Feel Your Passion." But critics say Rio, a city of 6 million, lacks an American-style freeway system, has a big time tourist crime problem and not enough first class hotels for the sky box crowd. Some of these raps are valid beyond glittering generalities. But the crime problem, often magnified by US State Department propaganda, is no different than an American tourist ducking down the wrong alley in the French Quarter of New Orleans, or a person who gets mugged by a transvestite after making the wrong call along the Sunset Strip in LA. Sir Rudy Giuliani would agree that educating people to be alert and avoid distraction is key but a tough call in a tourist town.
On the infrastructure side, the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has dough ready to go; the equivalent of $15 billion dollars to improve transportation infrastructure, fight crime, build stadiums and hotels and other tourist amenities should the IOC give Rio the green light. Independent of that, new units of multi-lingual tourist police and plain clothes details are already putting putting the collar on tourist crime and community policing tactics are starting to pay off in some bairros and favelas.
Brazil hosted the Pan American Games in 2007 and is now gearing up to host the FIFA 2014 World Cup, which rivals the Olympics as the planet's biggest sports marketing prize. These international sports events present big global security challenges and Brazil, which has been elected to the United Nations Security Council nine times, has the infrastructure and event management know-how to meet them. When Security Council reforms are finalized, Brazil will likely be voted a permanent member of the Council.
Rio ranks #32 among the world's top urban tourist locations. Madrid is #25 and Tokyo comes in at #37. Chicago is not among the top fifty, nor is Vegas in spite of its high noise to volume ratio. London, which will host the 2012 Olympics, is the world's #1 tourist location.
But site selection for the Olympics has more to do with power politics in the Machiavellian sense than with popularity.
Madrid, the final stop for the IOC before it makes its decision, has been a candidate before and has an outstanding plan for the games. Powerful sports marketing interests in Britain, France and Germany have voiced tacit support for the Madrid bid. But the economics of sports marketing in a new tight money global economy may raise concerns that back-to-back Olympics in Europe will not play well elsewhere in the world.
For its part, Madrid has a "mother country" problem in the New World, being part of the Old World that, along with Italy and the Vatican, did not see fit to give South America, now with the world's largest Roman Catholic population, a cardinal until 1905. Then too, security issues loom; although Spain recently captured leaders of the Basque separatist organization ETA, their terrorist cells are teflon and like the Islamist groups on the Iberian peninsula, they don't need Twitter to show up in a New York minute. Madrid will likely keep bidding and eventually host the games, when the geopolitical compass of the sports world next points to Europe.
Tokyo's bid has won praise in the mainstream media as the bid with the most funding and infrastructure. But 2008 host China, which manufactures all things sports and still holds a grudge over Japan's unpleasant pre-World War II occupation of Manchuria, may not be comfortable seeing Tokyo get the big prize.
One would expect Chicago to get strong back up from the White House. But US president Barack Obama seems to put more public emphasis on doing photo ops practicing his jump shot than with drumming up public support for the Windy City's bid to host the 2016 games. As Mike Ditka might say, the Chicago bid needs more mo-mentum as the race nears the wire.
The bottom line for business is that companies engaged in the trillion dollar sports marketing channel can get tremendous value in emerging Southern Hemisphere markets in South America, Southern Africa, India and South Asia and in 2016 Rio will offer them the best multicultural platform to reach out from.
At Crescenta Valley High in California and Fort Worth Dunbar in Texas, kids with Olympic dreams are lacing their track shoes, wondering where they're going to go for the gold in 2016. The Southern Cross is at the center of Brazil's flag and if the stars line up, those kids could be running the race of their lives in Rio.