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THE race for 2012 Games was always going to be the most intense in Olympic history. It features five of the greatest cities in the world — London, New York, Paris, Madrid and Moscow — and has changed dramatically in the last few weeks to leave London moving up to second place.

With six months before the crucial vote in Singapore on July 6, Madrid, which had been second to Paris for much for last year and was confident of being in the final round with Paris, elbowing out London, has now fallen behind. This has put London comfortably in second place within touching distance of Paris, with International Olympic Committee insiders freely agreeing that London in the last six months has run by far the best campaign.

But coming up fast on London is New York, hunting the same 40 English-speaking votes. And the battle now being waged by all five cities is to make sure that when that first-round ballot is held, their city is not in last place and, under the voting rules, eliminated.

Craig Reedie, chairman of the British Olympic Committee, has always said that he would never have proposed a London bid if he did not think that in the first round London would have around 20 votes.

The best estimate from IOC insiders is that London has 20-22 votes. Paris is ahead with around 25-30 votes but not so far ahead that it cannot be caught in a subsequent round. New York probably has around 15-17 votes with Madrid about 10-12. Moscow is estimated to have eight secure votes and with its bid riven by internal problems many predict it will be the first city to fall.

But it is Madrid’s decline in the last six months that is providing the talking point within IOC circles. Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, has always identified Paris and Madrid as the two biggest threats to London.

Madrid started out in the race in great style. It had a good technical bid, so good, indeed, that when the IOC made their initial assessment last May, on the basis of which the shortlist of five cities was drawn up, it was rated second to Paris. In certain areas it was even more highly rated than the French capital. London came a poor third with the IOC assessors expressing doubts about its transport capability and concerned that some of the sports sites were far away from the Olympic village, involving athletes in long journeys.

Madrid followed this with an aggressive campaign that reached its peak in Athens. There Madrid made the most of the embarrassment caused to London by the BBC’s Panorama programme screened just before the Games which investigated whether IOC members could still be seduced by bribes. It led to a Bulgarian, Ivan Slavkov, being suspended — the IOC will vote on expelling him at the Singapore session. Although London 2012 had nothing to do with the programme, IOC members were angry that a major British media organisation highlighted an issue that the IOC felt they had solved and London was forced on the defensive.

Juan Antonio Samaranch Jnr, the son of the former IOC president who is leading the Madrid bid, made much of London’s discomfort.

However, just before Christmas, when the five bid cities made their first presentation to an Olympic gathering at a meeting of the European Olympic Association in Dubrovnik, Madrid tried to introduce humour into their presentation — and it backfired badly. One IOC member told me: “Madrid tried to be funny and looked childish. London was impressive and so was New York.” Madrid has not recovered from that fiasco while New York has built on it.

New York is well aware that President George W Bush’s Iraq policy is unpopular but it is using the American assistance to the victims of the Asian Tsunami disaster to highlight the other, gentler, face of America. It has also written to all IOC members saying that it has ironed out post September 11 immigration hassles with Homeland Security. Recently two IOC members visiting America, including our own Craig Reedie, found US immigration treating them as if they were visiting royalty. Dan Doctoroff and the very personable Charles Battle, a lawyer who oozes southern charm, are proving two of the best New York campaigners and are working hard to cut into London’s lead.

New York’s rise will make London change tack. But in the last six months London has shown admirable flexibility. It has remodelled its bid both on transport and sports venues, bringing some of the far-flung venues nearer the Stratford headquarters in east London. It has successfully sold the campaign to the British public and its international campaign is by far the most impressive.

Paris, like all front-runners, is playing a careful game in not wanting to make a mistake, but which also makes its campaign rather low key and quite pedestrian. This gives London a wonderful chance, more so as Olympic bidding shows that front-runners often finish second.

KEY DATES: THE ROAD TO SINGAPORE

Feb 3-March 17: Visits to the candidate cities by the IOC evaluation committee.

Feb 3-6: Madrid

Feb 16-19: London

Feb 21-24: New York

March 9-12: Paris

March 14-17: Moscow

April 1-4: Oceania Olympic Committee meeting in Brisbane where bid cities make presentation to IOC.

April 22-24: IOC executive board meeting in Berlin. Bid cities allowed to have booths to promote their bids to IOC members.

June: Evaluation commission report is made public, revealing technical assessments of the bids.

July 6: Formal presentation by bid cities to the members of the International Olympic Committee in Singapore. This will be followed by the vote to elect the 2012 host city.

© Mihir Bose

      

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