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THE controversy over choosing Beijing for the 2008 Olympics has barely died down but already London is preparing to bid for 2012. The first preliminary step for a London Olympics bid was taken with a meeting yesterday afternoon at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport of what is effectively the shadow bid committee.

‘Shadow’ is a very appropriate word for everything about this group. So shadowy, indeed, that the press officer at the DCMS did not even know about the meeting and some of the people who attended were keen to damp down any talk of a London bid.

Officially, the committee is called the Stakeholders Group, made up of the British Olympic Association, the Greater London Authority and the Government. Craig Reedie, chairman of the BOA and Simon Clegg, his chief executive, who attended the meeting — Sir Steve Redgrave, the third BOA member, was on holiday — were keen to convince me that the word ‘bid’ had not passed their lips. This, they said, was just a meeting to make assessments, look at the overall picture, and consider whether London has the infrastructure and organisation necessary for a bid.

The fact is that this is the second meeting of this group in the last few weeks and since Beijing won the 2008 Olympics — the BOA were terrified of a Paris victory and wanted either Beijing or Toronto — moves to get a London bid going have accelerated.

Richard Caldicott, chief executive of UK Sports, attended yesterday’s meeting. As the supreme sports quango for Britain, UK Sport would have to be involved in any London bid and his presence shows that talk of a bid has now moved up a significant gear.

Caldicott, who was involved in the unsuccessful Birmingham bid for the 1992 Games, told me: “This is the first meeting I was attending and it’s fair to say it’s a preliminary to forming a bid committee.”

Highly placed sources have told me there has already been some discussion about how much it might cost to mount a London bid and a figure of £35 million has been mentioned.

For London to make a successful bid, two things will have to be done. The internal political problems would have to be sorted and then London, which last staged the Olympics in 1948, would have to beat what looks like a very strong international field.

Although the eventual decision on the bid would have to come from Tony Blair — at the recent general election the Prime Minister dropped the previous manifesto commitment to secure the Olympics for Britain. But the Government will not bankroll the bid costs, they will merely provide some technical support. They will expect the BOA and London mayor Ken Livingstone, who is keen on the bid as a means of regenerating east London, to find the bid money.

As for convincing that peculiar club called the International Olympic Committee, already it seems 2012 will attract one of the strongest fields yet, with many of the world’s great cities involved. New York, which has never bid for the Olympics, is favourite for the American challenge, while Toronto, which came second to Beijing with an excellent bid, may run again. Moscow has already declared. Rome and Berlin may follow and Claude Bebear, who headed the Paris challenge, wants to bid again.

So what price a London bid for 2012? We are four years away from a decision, but William Hill are offering these odds: Rome 7-4 on, New York 2-1, Paris 4-1, Berlin 5-1, Moscow 8-1 and London 12-1.

Not very patriotic, but Paul Austin of IG Index Sport, said: “New York will be strong and even in Europe, London will not be the favourite. If we don’t get our infrastructure right, IOC members won’t vote for us.”

If there is a bid, London must avoid the kind of `shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’ mentality apparent over the bid for the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. The Government and Sport England, having provided the extra money as recommended by Patrick Carter’s report, first revealed in The Daily Telegraph, have now put in place proper accounting procedures to ensure Manchester, who have come back for more money several times, do not come back again. Sport England changed their policy of the last five years never to fund revenue costs — they only provide money for capital costs and building sports facilities, but they agreed to give another £30 million to Manchester.

A spokesman for Sport England confirmed to me that this difficult decision was a one-off. “We were not best pleased that back in March, Manchester assured us everything was on course. We are making sure there are stringent financial controls. A funders’ committee of the Government, Manchester City Council and us has been formed. Also a new chairman of the finance committee is being sought to make sure the funding works properly.”

© Mihir Bose

      

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