Obama video shown to African leaders

Updated: July 7, 2009, 4:19 PM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- The four candidates for the 2016 Olympics took their campaign to Africa on Tuesday, with President Barack Obama renewing his support for Chicago's bid in a video message less than three months before the vote.

Representatives from Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo made key presentations to the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa in Abuja, Nigeria. It was the last chance for the cities to publicly showcase their bids before the final presentations and IOC vote in Copenhagen on Oct. 2.

As President, I see the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games as an opportunity for America to reach out and renew our bonds of friendship around the world -- to welcome the world to our shores with open arms.

-- President Barack Obama

"I see the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games as an opportunity for America to reach out and renew our bonds of friendship around the world -- to welcome the world to our shores with open arms," Obama said in a two-minute message taped at the White House. "And I very much hope we will have that chance to extend that hand of Olympic friendship to all of you in Africa."

It was the second video message sent by Obama to a gathering of international Olympic officials. The first was at a meeting of the European Olympic Committees in Istanbul in December.

Obama's support is seen as crucial to Chicago's hopes of bringing the Summer Games to the United States for the first time since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

"You can count on our government to work as a committed partner in Chicago's quest to host a great and historic games and strengthen the Olympic movement worldwide," he said.

Obama's message carried particular weight at the African meeting because America's first black president has family roots in Kenya. A former Illinois senator with a house a few blocks from Chicago's proposed 2016 Olympic stadium, Obama recently set up a White House Office for Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport.

"Bringing the world together in a great celebration of humanity, the Olympic Games empower us, if even for a brief moment, to focus on all that we share rather than things that divide us, and the games remind us how much we all have to learn from each other," Obama said.

The question now is whether Obama will travel to Copenhagen for the International Olympic Committee vote. Spain's King Juan Carlos has already announced he will attend, and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has indicated he will be there. Tokyo has invited Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito.

"He's going to help us in any way he can," Chicago bid leader Pat Ryan told The Associated Press by telephone. "He's been a great supporter. He's doing a lot. The link between candidate city and the U.S. government is unprecedented."

If Obama was the biggest political figure featured in the presentations, Rio brought the most famous sports personality -- the soccer great Pele -- as part of its delegation.

Silva, during a stopover in Paris, reiterated his view that it is South America's turn to host the Olympics for the first time.

"We can't accept the idea that the Olympic Games belong exclusively to the rich countries," Silva said through an interpreter.

"The Olympics in a European country, in Japan, or in the United States of America is quite simply just one more Olympic Games," he said.

The candidate cities have now presented their bids to all five continental Olympic bodies, including previous appearances at meetings of the Americas, Oceania, Europe and Asia.

African votes could be crucial in the IOC's secret ballot. The continent has 16 members in the 107-member IOC.

"This meeting was very important for all the cities because there is no candidate from Africa," Tokyo bid leader Dr. Ichiro Kono told the AP. "It is a neutral continent."

The cities all sought to play up their ties with Africa.

Ryan said more than 100,000 African immigrants live in the Chicago area and have the "highest achievement rates of any immigrant group in the United States."

Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said the Spanish capital could be a "bridge to unite Africa and Europe, as we have always been throughout our history."

Pele recalled playing in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1967.

The Tokyo delegation noted that the Japanese capital hosted an international conference on African development last year.

The cities also reaffirmed their financial guarantees at a time of global recession, with Tokyo reiterating it already has secured $4 billion for the project.

"It is absolutely the right plan for these difficult economic times," Kono said.

Although there are no more formal presentations until Copenhagen, bid leaders will continue to travel the world in the final months of the race, including appearances at the world swimming championships in Rome this month and the world track and field championships in Berlin in August.

"I doubt there is any of the four cities sitting back saying, 'We're confident we will win this," Ryan said. "Everybody knows we're in a tight race."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE