Lula: An Olympics would mean more to Brazil than the US
By Duncan Mackay in Rio de Janeiro
April 30 - Brazil's President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (pictured), today claimed that being chosen to host the 2016 Olympics would mean more to his country than any of the other candidates.
Lula met the 13 members of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Evaluation Commission before hosting a gala dinner for them at the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain attended by more than 120 people, including Pele.
This is the Evaluation Commission's third visit to a city bidding for the 2016 Olympics, following Chicago and Tokyo.
They are due to travel from here to Madrid next week.
Rio's chief selling point to the Commission is that the Games have never been staged in South America, a message that Lula was keen to underline when he met them and when he gave a private audience to a select group of international news organisations, including insidethegames.
He said: "For the US an Olympics is just one more Olympic Games.
"For Europe an Olympic Games is just one more Olympic Games.
"But for us it is something that really will be the reassurance of a continent, of a country and its people.
"Because, here in Latin America, we always feel we have to prove how to do things."
Under Lula's guidance, Brazil has risen to the tenth richest country in the world and is forecast to be the fifth by 2016.
He believes that the worldwide economic crisis has helped strengthen Rio's bid to host the Olympics because it is backed by such strong financial guarantees from the three levels of Government - Federal, State and City.
Lula said: "Thank God, this global crisis has unveiled the mask of many and shown the truth.
"Brazil was always seen as a very fragile country [but] this global crisis shows that we were the country better prepared with a very sound and balanced financial system, with a public finance very well stabilised.
"One advantage that Brazil has is not just the commitment of my administration; it’s a commitment of all the different Governments at all levels.
"I would say that what we are showing here is that we have faith and that the Brazilian people want to prove that it has the competence to organise the Games, that we will be as well prepared as any other country in the world to organise an Olympic Games."
Rio clearly has more work to do for 2016 in terms of infrastructure than its three rivals but Lula claimed that hosting the World Cup in 2014 will help ensure the city is ready in time.
He also claimed that the impact on the city would be as great as when Barcelona was transformed by hosting the 1992 Olympics.
Lula said: "I visited Barcelona before the Olympic Games of 1992 and I saw what the Olympic Games managed to do for the city.
"Of course, all these [three] cities are cities that are organised from the infrastructure point of view better than Rio.
"But who would ever say we do not have the conditions to transform Rio and to put in conditions even better than in these cities?
"Before Brazil was running for the Olympic Games we had already made a decision with the accelerated growth programme to make investments [across the country] of $304 billion (£203 billion) in infrastructure improvements.
"As soon as FIFA approves the cities for the World Cup in Brazil that same week the Federal Government will gather with State Governments and the Mayors of these capitals where they will host the World Cup and we will then approve urban mobility proposal so that we can prepare Brazil.
"When the time comes in 2014 we will be only two years away from the Olympic Games so I am convinced that it is a proposal of such magnitude that we want to show to the world that Brazil is just as able to organise the Olympic Games.
"That is why we have a seven year commitment [to be ready].
"It is not a personal project or only a sports project but for us it’s a nationwide project."
Lula has enthusiastically embraced trying to help Rio push its cause to host the Games.
He stayed on an extra day in London after the recent G20 Summit so he could inspect the capital's preparations for the 2012 Olympics and is hoping to use his political contacts to try to encourage IOC members to vote for Rio.
Some experts believe the presence of both Rio and Madrid will split the Latin vote.
But Lula thinks that as long as Rio survives the first round then it will pick up the votes from other the other cities, ultimately carrying it to a famous victory.
He said: "I’m already working on the idea of going to a second round and even going to a third round.
"What we need to do is to overcome the first stage.
"If we manage to go through the first round the chances of Brazil to win is tremendous.
"I have the advantage of being the senior President today in office [of the four countries bidding].
"I have much more personal relationships [with people] and I have the certainty that we will have the support of a lot of people.
"For example, if Chicago loses why would the US not vote for Brazil?
"If Spain doesn’t manage to win why wouldn’t they vote for Brazil?
"After all, every two years I gather with Spain at the Iberia-American summit.
"Our relationship with Japan has a long track record.
"The Japanese arrived in Brazil in 1908 and they helped to build this nation.
"So if Japan doesn’t go through the first round what would be the difficulty for Japan to support Brazil?"
Even the much-hyped "Obama Factor" does not concern Lula and, unlike many others, he does not believe that if the United States President turns up for the vote at the IOC Session in Copenhagen on October 2 that it means Chicago will automatically win.
Lula is confident that the IOC members will judge Rio's case on its compelling argument that South America has never hosted the Games and that it will present a magnificent stage to showcase the world's best athletes.
He said: “Obama, as me, represents a surprise for his country.
"That is to say actually we became a nature of phenomenon because it was never foreseen that a metal worker would become the President of Brazil and that a black man would become the President of the US.
"And here we are.
"There are great similarities between us.
"He’s a democrat, I’m a democrat.
"We believe in social organisations and we have a common view of the world that we want to build.
"This is a competition.
"This is a dispute, but not between two people.
"It is a dispute between two projects."
And one that Lula is increasingly convinced that Rio de Janeiro is destined to win.
Duncan Mackay is the publisher and editor of insidethegames
|April 2009:||Rio in buoyant mood after opening day of Evaluation visit|
|April 2009:||IOC Evaluation Commission begin to arrive in Rio|