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THE likelihood of London bidding for the 2012 Olympic Games received a massive boost when the Princess Royal gave her public backing and advised the Government that it would be worth going ahead with a bid even if it failed.

Princess Anne’s decision to go public could not have been more significant. Although she is the president of the British Olympic Association, who are pushing the Government to back a London bid, protocol rules that the Royal Family do not generally comment on government policy decisions.

Also, over the years, the princess has shied away from making any comments on the Olympics and, despite being a member of the International Olympic Committee, she was silent during the corruption crisis which nearly brought the Olympic movement to its knees.

But late on Friday evening, in the Jardin room of Mexico City’s Camino Real hotel, as IOC president, Jacques Rogge, was holding a press conference at the end of an IOC extraordinary session, the princess provided a performance that was compelling.

She said: “Staging the Games tends to help with the evolution of sports that have not done well before. Countries which have the Games do well. Australia was in the doldrums before Sydney came along. When it is in your own back garden there is considerable motivation, you tend to work harder.”

Bidding, said the princess, was worthwhile regardless of whether you got the Games. “The bids by Birmingham and Manchester made a huge impact, just the bid. The Manchester bid made the city put in transport infrastructure. That was a very good example to government of what can be done by a bid alone.”

The Government are now considering a report prepared by consultants Arup on the cost benefits of a London Olympics and the princess said: “The Arup report has done a lot to help in focusing on the basics. It is not just about sport or the local community. It is about cost effectiveness and evaluating the process.

There is now a level of expectancy of what London has to offer. We have done the homework. We can only do so much. We have to wait to see what the Government response is.”

One issue, which will sway the Government, is whether the Games would help improve London’s transport, a subject on which there has been little comment by London Transport. The princess said: “London Transport is not prepared to stick its neck out. It is not a good time for making comments, the bid may not happen.”

Should the Government give the go-ahead, who should lead the bid? The princess’s advice is: “There is an acceptance that the person who leads the bid may not organise the Games.

There is a bid period and an organisational period and that need not be led by the same person. Because the bid is different there is more of an element of project management. You might be looking for somebody with experience in that.”

Could this person be Prince William, her nephew? “Has somebody suggested that? I would suggest he did not bother.”

One thing a bid leader would not have to worry about would be visits by IOC members to London as visits to bid cities are banned.

The ban can produce what the princess called “jolly silly” situations, for instance when she was told she could not go to Paris for a rugby match as Paris was bidding. And if London bids, “I would not be allowed to meet Mr Livingstone [who as London Mayor would be part of the bid team)”.

However, she added: “Banning the visits has made the job easier. It simplifies the operation.”

The princess agreed that London was the only British city that would find favour with her fellow IOC members, who decide which city hosts an Olympics. “They are much more impressed with London than anywhere else. Yes, that is probably true.”

So would the princess be happy lobbying her fellow members?

“Lobbying,” she said, “is not a word that suits me somehow. But talking is easily done. My role will be to keep up with what is going on and stay close to the developments.”

We had a glimpse of how well the princess might talk London up when, during this IOC session, she was seen talking to her fellow members and even had lunch with them as she successfully rallied support to stop modern pentathlon being axed from the Olympics.

The axeing was part of a series of radical proposals by the programme commission to cut back on the Olympics which have already forced the international equestrian association to make dramatic changes to the eventing programme for Athens.

Instead of the present four second-day phases, only one will be performed, cross-country obstacle, so out goes steeplechase, roads and tracks.

“The sport,” the princess said, “has been seriously bounced. There was no warning about it. Nobody knows what logic they have made it on. This removes the stamina element and it is like asking a 10,000-metre runner to become a miler. Now an ambitious carthorse could get around the course. There is a duty for the IOC to protect tradition but you have got to find a balance.”

Much more of this ability to strike the right balance will be needed if London is to successfully bid.

© Mihir Bose

      

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