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A man of the world boosts Chicago's 2016 Olympics bid

January 7, 2009 |  3:45 pm

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, left, President-elect Barack Obama, center, and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, during a rally in 2007 to support Chicago's Olympics bid. A day after Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest, the folks pushing Chicago's Olympics candidacy made an announcement that was, needless to say, almost completely overlooked then  -- and actually has gone without comment until now.

But the move Chicago bid officials announced Dec. 10 is among the most significant things they have done to improve the city's chances of winning the race for the 2016 Summer Games.

It is this simple: Chicago 2016 finally has an international relations chief with relations internationally, not to mention some foreign language skills.

The naming of Bob Ctvrtlik as Chicago 2016's vice chairman for international relations also should smooth out the occasional bumps in the relationship between the bid officials and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Ctvrtlik, you see, is not only a three-time Olympic volleyball player (who had a pro career in Italy) but the USOC's vice president for international relations, a former International Olympic Committee member and an executive board member of both the Pan American Sports Organization and the Assn. of National Olympic Committees.

Bob Ctvrtlik in 1996. "We have an unprecedented partnership between the USOC and the (Chicago) bid, and this announcement finalizes both sides' commitment to that,'' Ctvrtlik told me as we sat in easy chairs at the Palace Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland, last month. "I have been acting in this role for six months, and my time commitment to the bid will increase from here on.''

That means volleyball Hall of Famer Ctvrtlik, of Newport Beach, now is being paid for that time, and it should be money well spent leading up to the Oct. 2 vote for the 2016 host.

One of the Chicago bid's weaknesses is the unfamiliarity of many IOC members with the city, a problem made more difficult by the IOC ban on member visits to the bid cities, which took effect as a result of the IOC vote-buying scandal that emerged in 1998. Ctvrtlik helps overcome that issue because the IOC membership is familiar with him, and personal relationships often are more significant in host-city votes than the technical quality of the bid. He is the only Chicago 2016 staff member with significant experience in international Olympic affairs.

For all the clout that bid Chairman Patrick Ryan and Mayor Richard M. Daley wield locally, neither had any ties to the Olympic movement before the Chicago bid effort began three years ago.

By comparison, Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman is an IOC member and Olympic volleyball player; Madrid 2016 Chief Executive Mercedes Coghen is an Olympic field hockey gold medalist and former official of the international field hockey federation; and Tokyo 2016 Vice President Tsunekazu Takeda is a two-time equestrian Olympian and president of the Japanese Olympic Committee.

In another IOC reform that followed the bid-city bribery scandal, Ctvrtlik became one of the first group of athletes chosen as IOC members. His eight-year term ended at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Over those eight years, he has become an increasingly important player on the Olympic scene.  His  astute analysis of the USOC's failings in New York's unsuccessful effort for the 2012 Summer Games led Peter Ueberroth, who took over as USOC chairman too late to help New York, to revamp the entire USOC international relations division -- and Ctvrtlik's appointment as vice president was the first big step.

It would be Ctvrtlik who delivered the ultimatum that the city needed to have "some skin in the game'' when the issue of guarantees came up during the USOC inspection visit prior to the 2007 selection of Chicago over Los Angeles as U.S. bid city for 2016.

Given the forceful personalities of both Ryan and Ueberroth, both enormously successful businessmen, it was inevitable there would be some friction between Chicago 2016 and the USOC. That has been tempered by the desire of both men to make the bid a winner for the city and the USOC, which needs the revenue infusion a U.S.-based Games would provide.

Ctvrtlik has become a bridge between the two organizations.  At 6-foot-4, he can also help span the gap between Chicago and the Olympic world.

-- Philip Hersh

Top photo: Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, left, President-elect Barack Obama, center, and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley during a rally in 2007 to support Chicago's Olympics bid. Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

Inset photo: Bob Ctvrtlik, in 1996 when he was the U.S. men's volleyball captain. Credit: Allsport