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TONY BLAIR and Hillary Clinton may be political allies but they are campaigning hard on opposite sides here as the race to stage the 2012 Olympic Games reached its final stretch.

Senator Clinton made her public case for New York at 8.30am local time. An hour later the Prime Minister held his first press conference.

The two were due to spend the rest of the day having closed-door meetings in their hotel suites with a series of International Olympic Committee members. The Clintons and the Blairs may be close friends but in this instance they were seeking to draw votes away from each other.

Blair has been told that the London team are confident of beating Paris in a final with the other three cities, New York, Madrid and Moscow, not considered major threats.

The latest internal vote counts by London suggest that in the first round London may be ahead of Paris by as many as eight votes. One IOC member is even predicting that London will win in the second round.

While not brash, the London team feel more wooing by the Blairs — to urge members voting for New York, Moscow and Madrid to switch to London once their own first choice has been eliminated — could deliver victory.

New York’s stadium problems, which have meant substituting the original choice with a new site, have not only forced the IOC to look at the plans again this morning, but dealt their hopes such a fatal blow that they could go out in the first round. Hillary Clinton’s task is to make sure that New York is not eliminated in the first round and persuade those likely to favour London to stick with New York.

In addition to Blair holding meetings with IOC members, London has kept up a media campaign which has quite overwhelmed opponents, including a rare press conference by the Princess Royal.

Unlike other IOC members of bid cities, including Britain’s Craig Reedie, who wait in the IOC hotel foyer greeting fellow members, the Princess will instead discuss the bid with fellow members if asked.

The bid teams also unveiled their sports stars, and Madrid, in its only press conference, presented Raul, just about the time his Real Madrid team-mate David Beckham slipped through the VIP reception area of Changi Airport with his wife Victoria to attend a function by the British High Commissioner.

New York will display one true legend when Muhammad Ali arrives today but his health is so fragile that he will only pose for photographs.

London’s desire to hog the headlines did produce a row when Jim Sloman, chief operating officer for the Sydney 2000 Games who now advises London, said Paris had no advantage in already having the Stade de France built. “The one thing you do have with an existing stadium is that it has been built for football, it hasn’t been built for athletics. It still has sight-line problems,” he said. “The London stadium will be built specifically for athletics.”

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe responded: “I think that to deserve victory you have to respect the Olympic spirit and demonstrate fair play,” then added: “One good thing about the Stade de France is that it exists.”

© Mihir Bose

      

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