Eight years after Chicago’s stunning loss to Rio de Janeiro for the prize of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, prosecutors in Brazil say they have “strong evidence” that high ranking officials there conspired to buy votes to secure the Rio bid.
Investigators working under the umbrella of an investigation code named Operation Unfair Play raided the home of Rio Olympics chief Carlos Nuzman Tuesday morning, and he was slated to answer questions from prosecutors later in the day. Federal police said they had warrants for the “preventive arrest” of two suspects, and search orders for 11 different sites.
“I can confirm that he did not commit any irregularity,” Nuzman’s attorney told reporters in Brazil. “Unfortunately, this has created a media spectacle.”
Chicago had high hopes going into the final IOC vote in Copenhagen in October of 2009. The Chicago bid featured a full court press from the White House, amid promises of colorful venues in iconic lakefront settings.
“You have my commitment,” then-mayor Richard Daley told the voting members, “that Chicago will work every day for the next seven years to be an Olympic city that you and the world would be proud of.”
When it was his turn to speak, President Barack Obama focused on the brotherhood of the Olympic movement.
“In a world where we all too often witness the darker aspects of our humanity,” he said, “peaceful competition between nations represents what is best!”
But Rio had made a strong case as well. Chicago was eliminated on the very first ballot, leaving Rio, Madrid and Tokyo in contention. The Brazilian bid won with 66 votes two ballots later.
“Some days you win, some days you don’t,” said a stunned Chicago bid chief Patrick Ryan. “It wasn’t our day to win.”
Now, there are suggestions that Rio’s deck may have been unfairly stacked against the other three cities. Investigators in France say an elaborate scheme involving offshore payments helped secure the votes of African IOC members, with some payments made three days before the Copenhagen vote, and another $300,000 bribe paid the very day Rio won the Olympic prize.
“There are several consistent indications that payments have been made in return for the votes of International Association of Athletics Federations and International Olympic Committee members, over the designation of host cities for the biggest global sporting events,” the French Financial Prosecutor said in a statement quoted by the BBC.
A spokesman for Ryan, the former Chicago bid chairman, declined comment on the investigation. Despite his role as an enthusiastic booster of the Chicago bid, Ryan has consistently shied away from comment on Olympic efforts by other nations since the defeat of the Chicago campaign.
Corruption or not, there are of course, no guarantees that the Chicago bid would have beaten out the other contenders. Going into the final days of the competition to land the 2016 Games, there was strong sentiment for a first-ever South American Olympics.
Tokyo, which was eliminated on the second ballot in Copenhagen, renewed its efforts and is slated to host the next Summer Games in 2020.
Published at 4:00 PM CDT on Sep 5, 2017 | Updated at 4:32 PM CDT on Sep 5, 2017