How many IOC members watch Oprah?

[To non-IOC members who also haven’t heard of her, here’s a wiki to help you along]

An official, non-China-related Shanghai Scrap tirade:

I’ve traveled widely – perhaps, not as widely as some of my colleagues – but widely enough to know a few things. First, never exchange money at an airport; two, always pack single cup packets of instant coffee; and three, nobody outside of the United States has ever heard of Oprah Winfrey.

It’s this latter lesson that I’d like to discuss, briefly, as a result of the fact that many (US) commentators are shocked that the International Olympic Committee [IOC] had the nerve to snub her and – by the way, the Obamas – in turning down Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics (full disclosure: I love Chicago). The AP, for example, raised a headline announcing that “Chicago, Obama, and Oprah lose in powerful Olympic bid.” And the otherwise sober-minded Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN writes: “The two Obamas. Oprah. David Robinson. Daley. That’s a pretty impressive starting five for schmoozing.”

Yes, it is Gene … if you’re schmoozing a group of US Olympic Committee members in hopes of landing the 2016 USOC trials. But this is the IOC, and it has members from places like China, Namibia, Bulgaria, and Vietnam – all places where Oprah’s star has yet to rise, believe it or not. Yes, it’s true, in China there is someone sometimes called “China’s Oprah” – but it’s only the foreigners who call her that. In fact, so far as anybody around here knows, Oprah is actually “America’s Chen Lu Yu.”

I bring this up because – over the last couple of weeks – there’s been an undercurrent of concern that the people in charge of the Chicago bid simply didn’t understand the politics and subtleties of the personalities who constitute the IOC (in either case, a disreputable and corrupt bunch, no matter how you slice that pie). The fact that they trotted out Oprah (“I mean, she’s our most popular daytime talk show host!”), and not, say, Michael Jordan (someone whom the IOC members would’ve actually liked to meet), tells me that there’s something to it.

Live abroad long enough, and sooner or later you’re either going to figure out that the rest of the world doesn’t share all of your interests, or you’re going to find yourself spending all your time with fellow expats, looking like a provincial bonehead. Looks like the USOC took the latter path. Way to go, guys.


  1. Imagine what an idiot everyone would be calling W if he’d tried to sell Houston as an Olympic city using a big country music star. Good post.

  2. You draw an interesting analogy here. I think it goes without saying that the US sports establishment is tone deaf when it comes to international competition and organizations. I don’t think Obama should have been involved in the Olympic bid at all but when I voted for him I expected that he had more international savvy than his predecessor. Makes me wonder!

  3. Lula was involved in the Brasil bid. And at this point in history it would be really hard to beat Brasil at this. It’s one of the up-and-coming developing nations and the IOC probably loves that kind of thing (so do I).

  4. Micah –

    Totally agree with you. As much I love Chicago, I would’ve voted for Rio, too, and for the same reasons that you outline (plus, Rio is gorgeous, and it’ll be a great backdrop for the Games). That noted, I’m still really irritated with the Chicago bid!

  5. I actually read an article recently (NYT, I think?) about how Saudi women really love Oprah. But yeah, I doubt anyone cares about her anywhere else.

  6. Rio was clearly the favorite coming in. How can you say no to the “B” in BRIC? Especially since no South American country has ever hosted the Olympics, and since Brazil is the only one of the top-10 economies (total nominal GDP) never to have hosted the Olympics.

    The only thing that was surprising was that the prediction markets (“betting pools”) had put Chicago first. Seems to be yet another example of how the emperor has no clothes. These investors (“gamblers”) are just too geographically concentrated to be of any use on an international topic.

    Re: Nate’s point about American sports tone-deafness. We might start by renaming the “World Series” (Japan isn’t invited) and the “National Hockey League” (last I checked, Canada is an independent nation).

  7. I believe Oprah is reasonably well known in New Zealand, too. At least, she was when I was at university. So, yeah,”world famous in New Zealand” doesn’t really help much.

  8. So we’ll go from highly orchestrated, no talk of politics, everyone is happy in CCP run China’s Olympics to “Rio is a beautiful city to host the Olympics, as long as you can afford a 5-6 star hotel and body gaurds”.

    Middle class tourists are ripe for the picking, pummeling, robbing and raping by Rio’s infamous thugs and gangs.

  9. I am not happy that Brazil won and US lost the Olympic bid, but it is understandable the attraction of IOC picking Brazil. But I am pissed that US did not even beat Japan and Spain.

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