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While London, Paris, New York and Madrid look to have stolen a march on their rivals in the fight to host the Games, other issues must be considered before the line-up for the final round is announced in Lausanne this morning, reports Mihir Bose

FOURTEEN men from countries as diverse as Lebanon, Greece, Guinea and Switzerland, and a solitary woman from Sweden, hold the fortunes of the nine cities who are bidding to host the 2012 Olympics in their hands.

They make up the executive board of the International Olympic Committee and this morning they will meet at the Palais de Beaulieu in Lausanne to decide which of the nine will go forward to the final round in Singapore in July 2005.

In theory their decision should be simple. A highly-qualified technical commission of the IOC have spent five months evaluating the mini-bid book of these nine cities. Last night their report was given to the 15 members explaining which of the nine are qualified to stage the Olympics.

The report will be made public only today but it is believed to recommend that there are no doubts about four: London, Paris, New York and Madrid.

But IOC decisions are not made on technical merit alone. The IOC executive board have the power to add other cities even if the experts have concluded these cities are not really qualified to host the Olympics. Four years ago at this stage 10 cities were bidding for the 2008 Games. The technical experts concluded that only four were qualified: Beijing, Paris, Toronto and Osaka.

The IOC executive board overruled the experts and added Istanbul to the list, despite the misgivings of the technical men.

This is where the politics of the Olympic movement come in. Issues such as whether a particular decision will offend a big Olympic country or damage a possible television contract have to be considered. In the race for 2012 the IOC executive board must decide whether they can upset two powerful Olympic countries, Russia and Germany, by rejecting Leipzig and Moscow.

It is these non-technical considerations that will weigh with the executive when they decide which of the other five cities in the race should be added to the top four. The five not in the 2012 Premiership class are Moscow, Leipzig, Havana, Istanbul and Rio. Each have huge technical question marks against their names.

Of these five, Havana would be the easiest to rule out. It would require a political earthquake for it to qualify for the final round. As one IOC member put it: “There are cities like London and Paris which we know can host the Games, others like Rio that might and ones like Havana that will never be able to host the Games.”

Leipzig is also believed to have got few marks in the technical report. It is a small town which was a surprise choice as the German entry, coming through because of a deadlock between Hamburg and Dusseldorf. Leipzig is just too small, and while the modern mantra of the Olympic movement is that it wants smaller, more manageable Games, they will never be small enough to fit Leipzig.

Moscow may have held the Olympics in 1980 but the Olympic movement has moved on and there are both organisational and security concerns, apart from worries about the stability of the Russian state. But can the IOC afford to offend the Russians, who were so upset by their athletes being caught for drug use that they threatened a walk-out at Salt Lake City?

The same question marks surround Istanbul, as they did in 2000 when it was bidding for the 2008 Games. But this time it does not have Sinan Erdem, the Turkish member of the IOC who played a big part in making sure Istanbul made the final list.

Four years ago on the night before the decision, as the executive board considered the technical report which had concluded that Istanbul was not qualified, Erdem went to see Juan Antonio Samaranch, the then IOC president. He pleaded for Istanbul, pointing out that not only did the Turkish government, by law, aid sports and build facilities when the Turks bid for the Olympics, but as a Muslim country that claimed to act as a bridge between Asia and Europe, Istanbul should also have a special place. Samaranch agreed and the executive board converted the technical no into a political yes. As if to justify this political decision, while Beijing, as expected, won easily, Istanbul beat Paris to come a remarkable second.

But Erdem is now dead and Samaranch is a pensioner. His successor, Jacques Rogge, lays great store on technical merit. He has said some cities will be eliminated but refused to speculate on the number.

Not all the 15 executive board members will vote or even take part in the decision. None of Rogge’s four vice-presidents will have a voice in today’s decision.

One of the vice-presidents, Dr Un Yong Kim, is in jail in Seoul charged with fraud. He is awaiting a verdict which could see him imprisoned for a number of years.

Three other vice-presidents have conflicts of interest as a city from their country is bidding. This rules out Dr Thomas Bach from Germany (Leipzig), Vitaly Smirnov from Russia (Moscow) and James Easton from the US (New York).

And although Rogge will chair the meeting he has said he will not, like Samaranch, lead, which means that it is the other 10 who will decide.

One of the 10 is Mario Vazquez Rana, from Mexico, who is keen to protect his region of the world and would, I understand, like all nine cities to go through.

But the majority of the other nine are heavily influenced by the French idea that it would be good to have a compact final bid. At most, five cities should be allowed to go into the final round.

If their view prevails then I expect the final five to be Paris, London, New York, Madrid and Rio. If the IOC fear political fall-out they will add Moscow.

Six is about the maximum for the final round. Beyond that the IOC face a nightmare prospect of long months visiting cities and a long drawn-out final vote.

This afternoon, when London gets the green light it will make the usual noises about not taking anything for granted. But then its experts will pore over the technical report. First they will want to know what it has said about London and whether it has, for instance, made any critical references to transport issues.

This is seen as weakness but London intends to convert defence into attack. Then London will look at the assessment of the other finalists, hoping the technical evaluators will provide the bullets that need to be fired in the real battle for 2012 that begins today. The phoney war is over.

© Mihir Bose

      

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