World Media’s Verdict on Obama’s Olympic Bid

Inevitably, the world has been drawing its own conclusions from President Barack Obama’s unsuccessful bid last week to help Chicago host the 2016 Summer Olympics. And a wide spectrum of press comment centers on whether it has dimmed his global luster. “So is the magic spell the Obamas had woven worldwide beginning to come undone?” asked the Indian paper, The Statesman.

That depends, according to a more considered editorial in the Saudi Gazette. “[Obama’s] defeat could soon be a distant memory, and may never be more than a quixotic-blip trip,” the paper observed. “But if, for whatever reason, bigger losses start piling up in Obama’s corner, his performance in this case could be regarded as emblematic.”

Conversely, Obama’s setback in Copenhagen would be forgotten in the face of some promise of success in Afghanistan, or a breakthrough on the Iranian nuclear front, to say nothing of agreement on healthcare reform. But as victorious Brazilians samba-ed joyfully and Chicagoans and Madrilenos coped with the International Olympic Committee’s rejection, the Saudi paper also raised a point frequently echoed over the weekend: The Copenhagen result “could feed negative narratives that [Obama] is a better talker than a deal maker — more celebrity than statesman.”

The French newspaper Le Monde headlined its story, “Chicago’s defeat marks Obama’s first failure,” and the leading German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s commentary was bannered, “Obama’s Slap in the Face is a Lesson.”

Le Monde went on to say that while the president has given every indication of putting the setback behind him, “most of the [American] media have been cruel.” FAZ said that while Obama’s defeat was “painful” for the president, it had to be equally so for Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC. Why? “The powers that be at IOC had seemingly enticed Obama [to Copenhagen]” with assurances that Chicago had a real chance of success.

More than one commentator recalled that the Olympics venue vote did not become the celebrity-driven event witnessed last week until 2005, when Tony Blair — then the British prime minister — turned up in Singapore and successfully lobbied the committee’s voting members to choose London over Paris for the 2012 summer games. The following year, then-President Vladimir Putin led Russia’s final formal presentation in Guatemala City and brought the 2014 winter Olympics to the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

Obama was not so lucky. The Times of India called the outcome in Copenhagen “a stunning rebuff for the United States and its sports-fan president.” Obama’s return to Washington empty-handed “set the pundits nattering about the president’s political loss of face,” the paper said. In reality, the Times reported, Chicago’s pitch was seriously undermined when one IOC member “wondered how smooth it would be for foreigners to enter the United States, given recent experiences” — a reference to problems that some foreign visitors have had getting through the Homeland Security screening process.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post said Chicago’s bid failed because, “The United States had little political currency to spend . . . no matter how many stadiums the Second City could build or the star power brought by the world’s most powerful man.” Thus Chicago was “trounced and the embarrassment of the U.S. Olympic movement now officially stretched all the way to the White House.”

As Israeli daily Ha’aretz pointed out, “What Obama’s advisers failed to understand is that the people doing the [IOC] voting — members of European royalty, quasi-racist aristocrats, oil-rich emirs, high-profile billionaires, former athletes and sporting wheeler- dealers who could teach Rahm Emmanuel something about the art of politics — are never going to be overwhelmed by the leader of the free world. They’re not impressed by a politician whose smile is as permanent as he hoped his country’s right to host the Olympics would be.”

Meanwhile, flushed with success, the Brazilian press has made little comment on the American defeat. President Obama congratulated Brazil’s President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva in a two-minute phone call from Air Force One, according to the Brazilian daily O Globo. Lula’s second call came from none other than Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez.