Archives

Daily Telegraph

I ALWAYS believed London had a chance of success, but it was just before I left for Singapore that I began to think a win was on.

I spoke to a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, a European widely respected and well connected. I had him down as voting for Paris, but he told me how impressed he was by the fact that Prime Minister Tony Blair had written to him asking for a personal meeting in Singapore.

This member is used to being courted by kings and presidents, had received letters from Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac, but Blair asking for a meeting had impressed him and he now felt that it was not only too close to call but that London could beat Paris.

The next day I met Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, and now the Olympic minister. She said the momentum was with London and asked what I thought would happen. I told her that Madrid was back in the race and could not be ruled out.

She told me that London had changed tactics. Until about a month ago they thought the third city in the race, beside London and Paris, would be New York. Now they thought Madrid posed the real challenge. If London got into the final with Paris then the race would be decided on how the Madrid votes were divided between the two.

I rang Graham Sharpe, of William Hill, and put £100 on London at 7-2. Unlike my colleague Angus Loughran, who famously bet while Tiger Woods was still an amateur that he would win the Open, my relationship with my bookmaker is simple — I offer him money and he laughs all the way to the bank.

I go to Singapore to find all the other big cities in the Raffles City Convention Centre but no sign of London. They were secreted away at a holiday resort planning what Seb Coe called “the narrative of the bid”, which he wanted to tell the IOC members in his presentation.

For the other bid cities camping out in the foyer of the convention centre this provoked mirth and one French source asked sarcastically: “So have you been to your English hideout? Are they going to storm out of it and ambush us French?”

Even when the London bid team led by Coe and, soon after, Tony Blair arrived at the Raffles

Convention Centre on Sunday, the French seemed to think it was all a bit of a media blitz.

When on Sunday afternoon Blair emerged from his suite and walked through the foyer of the hotel, provoking applause from the holidaymakers, a French source told me: “I didn’t think he was running for office in Singapore.”

At this stage it was impossible to judge whether the British campaign was all media hype which would lead nowhere or would actually make an impact. The British were bullish, but I had seen previous British bids, including that for the 2006 football World Cup, make similar noises and get humiliated.

But on Monday morning I spoke to an IOC member who made me think that this time it was not hype but could be real. He was from the Commonwealth but not the old white colonies and dominions that the British usually associate with the Commonwealth, but from the Indian subcontinent. London 2012 had been very active in supporting his plans to get a big international sports event for his country, he had developed good links with Coe, and as we met in the foyer of the IOC hotel he pulled me to one side and said in a conspiratorial term: “The game is on. London could win.”

The French complained about how Blair, who was meeting IOC members in his hotel suite, was blocking up elevators in the hotel and doubted whether having David Beckham made any difference. They had not brought their own great football star, Zinedine Zidane, and President Chirac was only coming the night before and would not be meeting any IOC members individually.

However, 24 hours before the vote, an IOC member who had just come back from his meeting with Blair told me: “London will win by three votes. I’ve never seen anything like this by the English, even Her Royal Highness [the Princess Royal] is campaigning and talking to IOC members.”

The night before the session starts the IOC traditionally have a reception where the city hosting the session puts on a display and members mingle with each other. At the end of it one member told me: “It’s very difficult to call, but the talk is all about London. However, I must tell you that Samaranch [Juan Antonio senior, the former IOC president], is campaigning very hard for Madrid.”

I was intrigued by Madrid. They had reacted harshly against the mild criticism of the city in the IOC’s evaluation report and when I asked them about this, a leading bid official told me: “We were not harsh enough. This evaluation report shows the French bias in the IOC headquarters in Lausanne.”

I was convinced London and Paris would get through to the final round of voting at which point most of Madrid’s support would to go to Paris, but if it did not then London could just scrape a win. In my forecast for this newspaper I wrote that should London get a majority of Madrid votes it could win by three.

The next day, while watching the questions put to each city by the IOC members, I was struck by the animosity shown by IOC members who were considered Madrid supporters to the Paris bid and vice-versa. One IOC member, a known Madrid supporter, asked Paris why support for the bid was so low in the French capital, using figures for New York, when actually the French bid was well supported.

Then Prince Albert of Monaco, a French supporter, asked Madrid about the ETA bombing two weeks ago, which provoked the Spanish prime minister to reply: “We will not allow enemies of our candidacy to destroy the bid.”

After the presentations the IOC members had a break before they went in to vote. One of them told me: “The French are so arrogant. It will be a London-Madrid final.”

Then I saw the IOC member who had told me how impressed he was with Blair’s letter and when I pressed him how it might go, he said: “London could win.”

I rang my bookmakers again and, though the odds had shortened, I put another £250 on London hoping that Madrid would not reach the final round of voting. My fear was that if it did the Spanish capital would beat London, which was also the fear of Simon Clegg, the chief executive of the British Olympic Association.

As the cities fell, Moscow first followed by New York and Madrid, the voting seemed to go as I had suggested. So where was the surprise that all bidding city elections produced? Would it be in the final?

Jacques Rogge provided the surprise we all wanted but also brought me a first. Not only had the right result been obtained on Wednesday night, but I had made money on it. Normally, when I back my sporting hunches, that never happens.

© Mihir Bose

      

Share |
Categories: Olympics | 1 Comment »

Comments

 

Latest Tweets

Follow me on twitter

Home | About | Books | History | BroadcastingJournalismPublic Speaking | Contact

MihirBose.com | Website development by Pedalo