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WHEN Tessa Jowell spends today with the International Olympic Committee’s evaluation commission there is one question she will be asked that, above all others, is a killer.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport’s confidence that she can deal with that question reflects her strong belief that London can win the race to host the 2012 Olympics. The question centres on the Picketts Lock fiasco of 2001, when the Government promised to build an athletics stadium on the north London site to host the 2005 World Championships but then reneged and famously offered to stage the event in Sheffield instead. The IOC inspectors will want to know if they can believe Britain’s Olympic promises are kept.

Tucking her legs underneath her, making herself comfortable on a sofa, she launched into the answer she would give. “We have learnt a lot from the mistakes that were made at that time. Then the relationship with the Government was not sufficiently clear, commitments were given ahead of the funding being on the table. One of the reasons that it took nearly six months for us in Government to make the recommendations to Cabinet to support the decision to bid for the Olympics was precisely because I wanted certainty both on the funding and the affordability of the Games. Second, I wanted to make sure we had the organisational capacity and the political will to support and deliver the Games. Thirdly, that we could be confident about the legacy benefit.

“We have those certainties now for the Olympics and it is for that reason the IOC can be confident we will fulfil our commitments. There is a final point. Since the Picketts Lock decision we have hosted the most successful Commonwealth Games ever, organised the Golden Jubilee and the [athletics] World Indoor Championships. The world has changed beyond recognition within Government, in relation to these big projects, from the time we decided on Picketts Lock.”

Yet in some ways it has not changed. These last few days, as Jowell has been wooing the evaluation commission, Mayor of London Ken Livingstone’s failure to apologise for recent insensitive comments to a Jewish journalist has cast a shadow.

“I think,” said Jowell, “it is an unnecessary distraction. Ken has a temper and he lost his temper with this particular journalist and this particular journalist is with the Evening Standard, being part of the feud between Ken and Associated Newspapers which has gone on for years. But it is important to underline that Ken has expressed regret that any offence his remarks may have caused more widely to the Jewish community in London and elsewhere. I don’t think Ken has either a racist or anti-Semitic instinct in his body. Whether it carries much weight with the IOC is, I think, doubtful. Because what they will see when they see and hear Ken talk is London’s mayor as a passionate advocate for the Games, one of the great advocates who has got us to a position of considerable strength.”

Jowell herself is now such a passionate Olympic fan that she sounds positively evangelical. “There are moments when an opportunity comes once in a lifetime — bidding for the

Olympics is one such opportunity. It is not an opportunity that will come again in my lifetime in the way we have it for 2012.”

Indeed, such is Jowell’s enthusiasm that she talks openly of the day after July 6, when the IOC vote on 2012 takes place in Singapore. “We have secured the legislation which will establish an Olympic lottery to start the day after we win the bid. Immediately we can go from bidding to implementation stage.”

But before July 6 comes May 5 — the rumoured date for the General Election — and Jowell could be moved to another job. Over this she was coy. “Those matters are for the Prime Minister.”

She confirmed that Tony Blair, will try to get to Singapore for the decision. “Can he get to Singapore? As everybody knows he is chairing the G8 summit in Gleneagles [on the same day] but I know if he possibly could, he would. Everyone is impressed by the Prime Minister’s commitment and conviction for the Olympics.”

Not even the question marks over London’s transport can deflect Jowell from her cheerleading. “Apparently the transport presentation yesterday to the IOC was absolutely inspiring. Our transport plans for the Olympics have been described by the Australians who are advising us as the best transport plans the Olympics have ever had. There is investment going in. Our transport system in 2011 and 2012 will be a different transport system to the one we have now.”

Jowell also has advice on how we should go about winning the bid. “When you have a chance to bid for the Olympics, what you have to do is stick your chest out, get your chin up and say, `We believe in this, we believe in our capacity to do it and do it better than anyone else.’ I think natural British diffidence can sometimes be mistaken for a lack of passion.”

She even has confidence that the British press is on board. “Several IOC members have said to me, `You can win this but your main problem is your media’. I think actually, by and large, the press has got behind the bid. We are confident. We think our country can be the location for the Olympics.”

If Jowell can convey this British belief in the Olympics to the IOC inspectors today, as she spends the whole day with them, it might do wonders for London’s chances.

© Mihir Bose

      

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