Olympics - Former Japan PM Mori fears 'Obama factor'

TOKYO Mon Jun 22, 2009 12:38pm IST

Tokyo 2016 Bid Committee members present their candidature to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members during the second briefing for IOC members on the candidature for the 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic museum in Lausanne June 17, 2009. REUTERS/POOL/Dominic Favre

Tokyo 2016 Bid Committee members present their candidature to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members during the second briefing for IOC members on the candidature for the 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic museum in Lausanne June 17, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/POOL/Dominic Favre

TOKYO (Reuters) - United States President Barack Obama could give Chicago the edge in the race to host the 2016 Olympics, fears former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

Tokyo faces competition from Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid for the right to stage the Games but Mori admitted the 'Obama factor' was a concern for the Japanese bid.

"You wonder if they can have two straight Olympics in Europe after London in 2012," Mori, a Japanese Olympic Committee board member, told Reuters in an interview.

"It's hard to imagine. You also have to ask if the Games will come back to Asia (so soon) after Beijing last year. The threat could come from America.

"Chicago could be the biggest rival, helped by Obama's popularity. Like many people I thought Paris was almost certain to win the vote to host 2012.

"Then (former British Prime Minister) Tony Blair got involved at the end, and people say that tipped it and London won."

Mori, Japan's leader between 2000 and 2001, added: "Obama could be a factor of course. I don't think (Japanese PM) Taro Aso would have much impact. I do wonder how many times the United States needs to host the Olympics though!"

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) names the host city for the 2016 Summer Games on Oct. 2.

JAPAN FAVOURITES

Mori, also president of the Japan Rugby Football Union, expressed greater confidence in bringing the 2015 World Cup to the country after losing out to New Zealand for the 2011 tournament.

"Japanese players are half the size of the All Blacks or English so our objectives are lower," said the 71-year-old on the sidelines of the under-20 world championships in Japan.

"But (Japan coach) John Kirwan is still targeting the quarter-finals of the World Cup. We want the IRB (International Rugby Board) to see how hard Japan is trying to make the game more global."

The IRB will decide on July 28 which country from Japan, England, Italy or South Africa will host the 2015 World Cup. Japan are widely seen as favourites to win the vote.

Mori's term as Japanese PM was marked by a series of verbal gaffes and he pulled no punches on the subject of who should get the 2015 rugby World Cup.

"It should not always be about profit," he said. "The IRB makes enough money. If they have it in England next it will be as successful as France (in 2007) -- but I wonder where rugby's gentlemanly spirit has gone."

Japanese rugby officials were devastated after losing the 2005 vote to New Zealand, criticising the "old boys' network" of the IRB.

"Why does this group of old men in these countries have such control over rugby?" said Mori. "It's strange the World Cup has to be in Europe or the southern hemisphere.

"Japan is battling to make rugby a truly global sport. We will stage the best World Cup ever."

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