Lula promotes Rio 2016 bid in Beijing

Aug. 08, 2008, 7:53 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) As far as Brazil's president is concerned, Rio de Janeiro's bid to host the 2016 Olympics carries the ultimate seal of approval.

"When God made the world, he prepared Rio for the Olympic Games," President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Friday, a few hours before the opening of the Beijing Games.

In addition to attending the opening ceremony and meeting with Chinese government leaders, Lula is using his trip to Beijing to promote Rio's latest candidacy for the Olympics.

Rio is competing against Chicago, Tokyo and Madrid, Spain. The International Olympic Committee will select the host city at its meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, in October 2009.

Rio has bid twice previously for the games, but was eliminated in the preliminary stages. This is the first time the city has reached the final, and Lula shapes up as the bid's highest-profile booster.

"We have the firm conviction that we will be the country chosen for 2016," he said in an interview with The Associated Press and four other news organizations. "I personally am convinced there is no argument against Brazil's Olympic bid."

Lula said it is time for South America to host the Olympics for the first time. Buenos Aires, Argentina, has also been unsuccessful in previous Olympic attempts.

"South America not only needs the Olympics," Lula said, "it deserves the Olympics."

Lula confirmed that, if invited, he will travel to Copenhagen to push Rio's candidacy before the IOC vote. Former British Prime Minster Tony Blair successfully lobbied for London's 2012 bid in Singapore in 1995, and former Russian President Vladimir Putin was instrumental in securing Sochi's victory for the 2014 Winter Games in Guatemala last year.

Lula said Brazil has a stable democracy, a growing economy and the world's most passionate sports fans. He cited Rio's successful hosting of the 2007 Pan America Games and Brazil's selection as host of the 2014 World Cup.

The president also pledged that the Olympics would be safe in Rio.

"Brazil is a country where the word 'terrorism' does not exist," he said in Portuguese through a translator. "We don't have terrorist groups. We don't attacks they have in the U.S. and London."

Rio's crime rate is considered one of the bid's weaknesses, but Lula said the Pan Am Games passed without "the slightest incident" and that personal crime in Brazil is no higher than in the United States.

Lula also rebuffed suggestions that holding the Olympics would be too much of a financial burden for a developing country like Brazil, especially just two years after the World Cup.

"We do not accept the idea of a prejudice that it is too expensive to hold an Olympic Games," he said. "We don't have to know how much we will have to spend. We have to know how much we will gain. We should see the Olympic Games as an investment. Brazil deserved this opportunity."

Lula said Brazil will be among the world's top five economies by 2016, and the country is spending hundreds of billions of dollars in investments in public works and infrastructure projects.

In case Rio doesn't win, Lula already has a backup plan.

"The only sports we don't practice are on snow and ice," he said. "But with climate change, who knows, we could host the Winter Olympics."