Daily Telegraph

THE battle for the 2012 Games has developed into two fascinating races: one for the city which will host the Games, the other to avoid being the first of the five cities to be eliminated. No city is expected to win in the first round and, ironically, the city that gets the wooden spoon could decide which rival wins the gold.

While London and Paris have realistic prospects of winning, with Madrid having an outside chance, it matters a lot to London and Paris if either New York or Moscow is the first city to be eliminated.

That is one consideration, while another is that this contest looks like running to four rounds. It could produce a narrow win for London or a comfortable one for Paris, all depending on Madrid, one of the jokers in the pack, and its supporters.

As one IOC member put it, referring to the New York and Moscow situation: “We have had close races before, Sydney beat Beijing by two votes for the 2000 Games. This means that if two persons had switched sides, Beijing would have won. But in that race and in every other race there have always been jokers, cities that stood no chance. In this race, all five cities are capable of hosting the Games and this means dumping a city like that is sending a message which is both difficult and will not be very welcome. You could make a lot of enemies for the Olympic movement in that city.”

The Moscow-New York race to avoid being the first city to be eliminated has seesawed dramatically over the last few weeks. A month ago a poor evaluation report made Moscow the favourite for the drop.

However, then came New York’s stadium crisis, local politics putting paid to stadium plans in Manhattan, and the city had to hurriedly find another stadium in Queens. A week ago, when the bidding cities started gathering in Singapore, the view was that the stadium crisis had given International Olympic Committee members an ideal opportunity to eliminate New York. As this would mean Moscow surviving until the second round, it would be a neat solution.

In the last few days, though, there has been some hectic campaigning by New York, led by their bid leader, Dan Doctoroff. Also, the arrival yesterday morning of Hillary Clinton, who, like Tony Blair, immediately canvassed a number of IOC members, has done much to retrieve the Big Apple’s position.

London’s team, meanwhile, came to Singapore as the underdogs but have behaved like a non-League side who suddenly find themselves playing at Old Trafford. They have won the publicity battle but whether this proves a bonus or will boomerang remains to be seen. Kevan Gosper, the Australian IOC member, has warned that it may frighten IOC members, who may fear seven years of such media blitz.

However, where London may have scored is in the use of Tony Blair in one-to-one encounters. London refuse to discus how many IOC members Blair met but it seems in his 2½ days in Singapore he has met upwards of 60 or so of those committed to London or the many who are undecided and leaning towards Paris.

I am told that in his discussions with individual IOC members the Prime Minister never asked them to vote for London. He merely told them London’s plans, in particular regarding legacy plans, and underlined the Government’s commitment to the bid.

I spoke to one IOC member immediately after his meeting with Blair and he told me: “I will not tell you whether I shall vote for London or not, but let me tell you that your Prime Minister is very impressive.”

The Princess Royal has also helped out and suddenly the British, so often considered aloof and starchy, appear approachable and charming and many IOC members are surprised.

Yesterday, in one 15-minute period in the foyer of the IOC hotel, I met three members from three continents who all told me that London had the momentum and could win.

However, they also warned me that Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former IOC president, was working very hard for Madrid and that it was difficult to judge what effect a strong Madrid would have on the race.

Madrid is the great joker in this election and the consensus now is that it will not be king but king-maker. This will make the third round, when Paris, London and Madrid are likely to be the surviving cities, crucial.

Paris might have a lead over London but it is unlikely to be big enough to be insurmount-able. If at this stage London can get a good majority of Madrid votes, then it will squeeze past Paris.

The theory has been that London cannot do that because Madrid’s mainly Latin and South American votes are more likely to feel at home with Paris. However, judging by the mood in the Madrid camp, there is real anger with what is considered a French bias in the IOC, particularly in the way the evaluation report was glowing about Paris but nit-picking about Madrid. This may induce some of the Madrid voters to swing to London.

That should be enough to give London a small winning margin. However, if they stick to their natural inclinations and go for Paris then the French capital could win.

The French have run this campaign as if they are 1-0 ahead with 10 minutes to play and have also employed an interesting tactic. They have suggested to members that in order to avoid any city being the first to be eliminated, why not make sure Paris wins in the first round. That way, the IOC could say the long-term favourite won and neither Moscow nor New York would carry the mark of rejection.

© Mihir Bose


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