BERLIN — Spin doctors, PR strategists and image consultants scurried through the hotel lobbies and bars. Young women handed out brochures, caps and T-shirts. Candidates pressed the flesh, flashed the charm and chased votes.
It looked like a scene from a political convention, but this was no ordinary election campaign. This was the latest battlefront in a high-stakes global competition: the race for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Never before has such a glamorous field vied for the Games -- Paris, London, New York, Madrid and Moscow. And with less than 75 days before the vote, the contest is getting testy.
Leaders of the five cities came to Berlin to push their case to an audience of IOC members and international sports federations. If the frenetic lobbying and schmoozing was anything to go by, it's going to be a madhouse when the bid cities and International Olympic Committee gather in Singapore for the July 6 vote.
The Berlin gathering highlighted the challenge of bid cities trying to navigate the strict rules put in place after the Salt Lake City scandal, which led to the ouster of 10 IOC members for accepting cash, scholarships and other inducements from the 2002 Winter Games host city.
"We come from a period of excesses, we come from a period of red carpet treatment, we come from a period of where we had a corruption scandal in Salt Lake City," IOC president Jacques Rogge said. "This is something we don't want to repeat."
With IOC members prohibited from visiting bid cities, and bid leaders barred from going to see the IOC delegates, there's often confusion and uncertainty over what the candidates can and can't do -- as London and New York found out.
Both cities became the target of an IOC ethics commission inquiry after announcing incentives to international federations, athletes and national Olympic committees.
New York promised to market each of the 28 Olympic sports for free in the seven years leading up to the Games. Federations would get free office space, with computers, phones and staff.
The IOC cleared New York on Friday, saying the marketing program was an "integral part" of the city's official bid documents submitted in November and was presented to IOC evaluators in February.
"The IOC therefore considers this matter to be closed," wrote Gilbert Felli, the IOC's Olympic Games executive director.
London, however, remained under scrutiny for offering a package of benefits, including $50,000 in subsidies to each national Olympic body toward the cost of using pre-Games training facilities in Britain.
If the ethics panel rules the incentives were not accounted for previously, London could face the embarrassment of being forced to withdraw them.
Other contentious issues emerged in Berlin.
Eyebrows were raised when editions of the International Herald Tribune were distributed in the hotel with a London wraparound promotion. It wasn't clear whether that was a violation of the rules.