President Barack Obama renewed his support for Chicago's Olympic bid Tuesday, telling African Olympic leaders in a video message the 2016 Games would give America the chance to "renew our bonds of friendship around the world." "From the beginning I have fully supported Chicago's dream of hosting the 2016 games," Obama said. "If Chicago is selected for this honor we will ensure that the Olympics and Paralympic Games are a key priority for our nation. ...
"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."
Obama's two-minute message, taped at the White House, was shown during a presentation by Chicago bid leaders at a meeting of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa in Abuja, Nigeria.
Bid leaders from Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo were also making presentations, the last formal campaign pitches by the
candidates before the International Olympic Committee selects the host city 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," Obama said. "And I very much hope we will have that chance to extend that hand of Olympic friendship to all of you in Africa."
Obama's message carried particular weight at the African meeting because America's first black president has family roots in Kenya. "While you and I live in different parts of the world, we share a common bond, a bond rooted in our shared love of sport and our appreciation for the values it teaches, particularly to our young people _ teamwork, dedication, courage and honor," Obama said. "Olympic level sport is the highest embodiment of these ideals." Obama, a former Illinois senator with a house a few blocks from Chicago's proposed 2016 Olympic stadium, 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," he said.
Chicago bid leader Pat Ryan told the assembly that Obama was offering "the full weight of his authority" to the 2016 effort. It's the second video message sent by Obama to a gathering of international Olympic officials. The first was shown at a meeting of the European Olympic Committees in Istanbul in December. Obama's support is seen as a major boost in Chicago's chances of bringing the Summer Games back to the United States for the first since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Chicago officials are hoping that Obama will travel to Copenhagen to push the bid in person before the IOC vote. Spain's King Juan Carlos has already announced that he will attend, and Brazilian President Luis Ignazio da Silva has indicated he will be there. Tokyo has invited Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito.
As British Prime Minister, Tony Blair was instrumental in London getting the 2012 Olympics when he lobbied IOC members in Singapore in 2005. As Russian President, Vladimir Putin helped Sochi get the 2014 Winter Games when he went to the IOC session in Guatemala in 2007.