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August 24, 2002: Carlos Nuzman beams alongside PASO President Mario Vazquez Rana shortly after Rio de Janeiro won the 2007 Pan Ams at a meeting in Mexico City. (ATR)

This week’s election of a host city for the 2015 Pan American Games brings back memories of the contest for the 2007 Pan Ams in which Rio de Janeiro beat the bid from San Antonio, Texas. Plenty of lessons that the U.S. didn’t learn from that defeat that might have helped Chicago –such as don’t pick basketball Olympian David Robinson for your team.

The vote by the Pan American Sports Organization General Assembly August 24, 2002 it turns out, clearly foreshadowed the Rio de Janeiro victory for the 2016 Olympics and as well reasons for Chicago’s demise.

We’ve written frequently about the continuity of leadership that helped propel the Rio Olympic forward and the disconnects that have plagued the U.S. For Rio, the story goes back to 2002 with the 2007 Pan Ams bid.

The bid was led by Carlos Nuzman, IOC member, president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee – and one and the same leader for the Rio Olympic bid seven years later. At his side, Carlos Roberto Osorio, Nuzman’s deputy for the 2007 Pan Am bid who reprised the role for the 2016 Olympics bid.

The dynamic duo were not alone – other staff from Rio and the Brazilian Olympic Committee also made the seven year journey from Pan Am bid to Olympics bid, a consistency no other bid in the 2016 race could match.

The Brazilians dealt with a setback in 2004 when the IOC rejected a Rio bid for 2012 in the early going. The IOC made it clear that Rio lacked the experience of a Pan American Games.

Nuzman and supporters celebrate the Pan Am victory that would become a stepping stone to the 2016 Olympics. (ATR)

That was cured in July 2007, with IOC President Jacques Rogge and dozens of other IOC members on hand to witness one of the better Pan Am Games in the 50 years of the event. The timing could not have been more perfect for the Brazilians. The deadline to apply to the IOC for the 2016 Olympics came just days after the close of the 2007 Pan Ams.

Now flip back the pages in the history book to the chapter for the U.S. Olympic Committee, circa 2002.

Wracked that year by a series of leadership crises, this was the nadir of an era in which the USOC truly earned its reputation as dysfunctional.

The USOC President who addressed the PASO Assembly in Mexico City on behalf of the San Antonio bid was Marty Mankamyer. A real estate agent who served on the USOC board and was elected president just weeks before the Pan Am vote, she had no international experience.

Mankamyer was called to fill the breach when Sandy Baldwin resigned as USOC president, brought down by falsified academic credentials on her resume. When Baldwin left the USOC, she was forced to resign a seat on the IOC to which she had been elected just months before in her capacity as USOC President. It’s a seat the U.S. has never reclaimed.

Besides a revolving door for USOC Presidents, the USOC was also dealing with CEO changes. In 2002 Lloyd Ward held the job, the second corporate hot shot in a row hired for the post without a background in the world of the Olympics – or sport, for that matter. Ward’s style and inability to connect with the national governing bodies or other stakeholders in the U.S. Olympic Movement doomed his tenure before he resigned under pressure from the U.S. Congress in early 2003.

USOC President Marty Mankamyer casts her vote in the election for the 2007 Pan Am host. She would be out of office months later. (ATR)

That was the year reforms for the USOC were put into place, the rules that govern the USOC today, meant to cure governance problems.

As the USOC now searches for its seventh CEO of the decade, one wonders whether much has changed at the USOC.

The naming of Peter Ueberroth as chair of the reformed USOC in 2004 seemed to provide a lift internationally. But a year later, the U.S. lost the New York bid for the 2012 Olympics. While the New York bid suffered a blow when government leaders killed plans for an Olympic Stadium, relations between the bid and the Ueberroth led USOC were often acrimonious.

Still, under Ueberroth the USOC seemed to settle down. A new international relations staff seemed to revitalize the outreach of the USOC.

But then – almost predictably — the revolving door at the USOC started spinning again last year, badly-timed with the last phase of the Chicago bid for the 2016 Olympics. The continuity represented by Ueberroth vanished as he left as chair. His successor, Larry Probst, from the corporate world, came without any Olympics background.

In March, with six months to go before the IOC 2016 vote, the Probst-led USOC Board of Directors dumped CEO Jim Scherr and elevated Stephanie Streeter to the post, for reasons never made clear. It was a maladroit move that only the USOC could deliver. Streeter, like Probst, an unknown to the Olympics with a corporate background, replaced Scherr, an Olympian, who had done much in his five years to convince Olympic Movement stakeholders that some stability had returned to the USOC.

While trumpeting the change as best for the USOC, for the Chicago bid it maybe was the worst that could happen. Once again the USOC had found a way to unplug itself from the Olympic Movement at exactly the time it needed to lend its credibility to a valiant bid from a U.S. city. In 2002 the disconnect may have cost San Antonio; in 2009 the victim was Chicago.

He’s a great guy, but bad luck for the U.S.? David Robinson towers over Barbados IOC member Austin Sealy at the at 2002 PASO assembly. Robinson is believed to be the only person who officially lobbied for both the San Antonio Pan Am bid and Chicago 2016. (ATR)

This week Probst and Streeter head to Guadalajara to attend their first Pan Am General Assembly. While it’s a bit late for Chicago, Probst appears to realize that the future of the next U.S. bid is at stake with what he does today – and it may be as many as 25 years before that bid happens. And maybe after observing the spoils of the Pan American Games enjoyed by Rio, USOC leaders might think more highly of a Pan Am bid, instead of dismissing the event.

As someone who is said to be knowledgeable about the qualities of fine wine, Probst must certainly understand the toils that must take place in the vineyard years before a vintage is ready for the bottle.

One other lesson for a future U.S. bid to learn from the San Antonio and Chicago campaigns: don’t invite Olympian and NBA star David Robinson. Robinson, it turns out, is the only direct link between the two bids, appearing for both in the final hours of their campaigns.

As dashing as the two-meter+ Robinson looked in a cowboy hat, the then San Antonio Spurs All Star could not help Pan Am bid seven years ago at the PASO general assembly in Mexico City.

Now retired from the NBA, the three-time Olympian was back in the U.S. bid business last month in Copenhagen as a member of the athlete delegation supporting the Chicago bid. Working the lobby of the IOC hotel, Robinson and his sizable charm was still not enough to put a win in the U.S. column.

Written by Ed Hula.

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(Copyright 1992 2008, all rights reserved. The information in this report may not be published, excerpted, or otherwise distributed in print or broadcast without the express prior consent of Around the Rings.)

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(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

It didn’t take long for the golden glow of winning the Olympics to turn into a harsh spotlight for Rio de Janeiro. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Fears that Rio de Janeiro is not safe for the Olympics surely were rekindled in the favela gunfire of the past week. Two dozen are dead, including three policeman who perished after their helicopter was shot down.

It was the all-too-common sort of trauma in Rio de Janeiro that could have happened during the closing days of the bid. But it didn’t, sparing the need for explanations and assurances that all will be well in 2016.

Today assurances aren’t needed to win IOC votes. (Given the large margin of victory for Rio, it’s possible that even an eruption of trouble like this might not have killed the Brazilian bid.) Now the assurances must convince the world – including key stakeholders such as media, sponsors and athletes – that their experience in Brazil will be trouble-free.

Other Olympic Cities have faced security challenges. Athens organizers were confronted with bombings from a terrorist group that was dismantled in 2002.

The joy of winning the 2012 Olympics was short-lived in London four years ago when bombs exploded on public transit only hours after the IOC vote. With more than 50 people dead and hundreds injured, it was a scenario that has driven security planners in London to prevent from happening again – whether tomorrow or in the midst of the 2012 Olympics.

This instant jolt in London likely removed any shred of complacency for Olympic security planning – and so too must be the case for Rio de Janeiro.

Unfortunately for Rio, the ingrained culture of violence that darkens life in the otherwise Marvelous City won’t end overnight. Given the history, more shootouts are likely as Rio de Janeiro prepares for the Olympics – as well as the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

There seems to be an absurdity of tracking urban violence as a milestone of preparation for events meant to symbolize the way people can gather in peace. But such accountings will be unavoidable through the coming years.

People want to feel safe about coming to an exotic destination, a world away from their homes.

By and large, Rio is a safe place. We can say this based on numerous visits to the city by ATR staff members for the past 10 years. We have heard about people (some connected with visits for Olympics-related meetings, others with the 2007 Pan Am Games) who have been victims of street crimes that could take place in any large city. But so far, the nasty gun battles between gangs have not snared anybody connected with world sport.

The 2007 Pan Am Games, hailed as a major boost for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic bid, were free of trouble, aided by a significant presence of local and federal law enforcement.

It’s one thing to build stadiums, roads and other physical manifestations of an Olympic Games.

But how do you eliminate an evil in society that has festered for years?

Gang leaders aren’t about to be shamed into a truce based on the harmful image their malevolence creates about Rio around the world.

Rio de Janeiro and Brazil will have to dig deep to come up with solutions that work quickly.

Over the next seven years, thousands of people will head to Rio de Janeiro to work on preparations for the Games, to attend meetings or to compete in test events. The first time something even minor occurs for one of these visitors, the publicity could be savage, not to mention the reaction should violence be involved.

Rio de Janeiro has to make sure there is no such first time. And if there is – Rio government leaders as well as the organizing committee – need to be open and transparent about the bad news.

At the same time, Rio also needs to spread the word about what is happening to make the city a better, safer place. The world will need to hear about social programs, policing and urban renewal projects as evidence that Rio is changing.

Leaders of the Rio bid never shied away from talking about crime when asked, never downplayed the issue. But despite the city’s standing as perhaps the most violence-plagued among recent bid cities, crime never seemed to emerge as serious concern while Rio de Janeiro was a candidate.

With Rio de Janeiro now under the glare of the Olympic spotlight, dealing with crime is inescapable. That realization could be the good for Rio that comes from this latest spasm of violence.

Written by Ed Hula

Op Ed is a weekly column of opinion and ideas from Around the Rings. Comments, as well as guest columns are welcomed: comment@aroundtherings.com

(Copyright 1992 2008, all rights reserved. The information in this report may not be published, excerpted, or otherwise distributed in print or broadcast without the express prior consent of Around the Rings.)

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