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One Month Till City Selected

June 05, 2005|From Associated Press

LONDON — After nearly two years of campaigning, five of the world's most celebrated cities are heading into the final month of their glamorous, high-stakes race for the 2012 Olympics.

And they're about to find out how they stack up -- on paper at least.

Monday marks the 30-day countdown to the July 6 vote in Singapore and coincides with the release of a key International Olympic Committee report evaluating the bids from Paris, London, New York, Madrid and Moscow.

The report won't grade or rank the candidates, but will focus instead on technical criteria that might play only a minor role when the 100-plus IOC members cast their secret ballots. Still, a glowing assessment will give a city impetus going into the final stretch, and a negative review could all but kill a bid at this stage.

"It's very important," Paris bid leader Philippe Baudillon said. "It's necessary to have a very good technical score. The IOC can't take any risks."

The report is based on visits to the five cities in February and March by the IOC evaluation commission, headed by Morocco's Nawal el Moutawakel. It will cover issues such as venues, hotel accommodations, security, transportation, financing and public support.

Paris, considered the favorite from the start, still looks like the city to beat. London is pushing hard and shaping up as the main challenger. New York's bid is tied up in wrangling over a proposed stadium, Madrid is struggling to make an international impact and Moscow remains the long shot.

But IOC votes are unpredictable, with geopolitical factors and issues of self-interest often having a decisive impact. More than ever before, IOC members are keeping their preferences close to their chests.

"Nobody dares ask, 'Who are you voting for?' " Israeli IOC member Alex Gilady said. "You can't measure it. I have no idea how it will go."

A central issue could be simple numbers: Moscow last staged the Summer Games in 1980, the United States in 1996 (Atlanta) and Spain in 1992 (Barcelona). Paris, meanwhile, hasn't held the Olympics since 1924, and London since 1948.

"On a statistical basis, that's where people would be focusing," said senior IOC member Dick Pound of Canada.

The campaign has been conducted under strict IOC ethics rules enacted after the scandal over cash, scholarships and other inducements given to IOC members during Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games. Ten IOC delegates resigned or were expelled.

IOC members have been banned from visiting the 2012 cities, and lobbying and promotion by the bidders was tightly controlled.

As a result, the cities have spent much of their time pitching their cases to domestic audiences and the media. IOC members may not have taken much notice so far.

"Unlike the candidate cities who live this night and day for 18 months, frankly the IOC members don't," Pound said.

Paris, which is bidding for the third time in 20 years, has run a relatively quiet and safe campaign while trying to cope with the front-runner's tag. After failed attempts for the 1992 and 2008 Olympics, Paris is a familiar quantity that IOC members might want to reward for its persistence.

Cited by some as being too cautious, the French capital is now stepping up its promotional efforts, including a huge street party Sunday with the Champs Elysees turned into an exhibition zone for 28 Olympic sports.

But Paris must contend with the possible fallout from France's rejection of the proposed European Union constitution. The "no" vote could have an impact on some of the 34 IOC members from EU countries.

"It doesn't help us," French national Olympic committee president Henri Serandour said.

London has been the most aggressive of the cities under the leadership of the bid race's biggest name, two-time Olympic 1,500-meter gold medalist Sebastian Coe.

In April, London withdrew incentives worth more than $20 million to sports bodies under pressure from the IOC ethics commission, but that issue seems to have been put to rest.

In a sign of the high national priority given to the effort, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and soccer icon David Beckham will be going to Singapore to lobby for London.

"I think we're well placed," Coe said. "I think it will go to the wire."

New York has made big strides under bid leader and deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff, but still faces uncertainty over the stadium, lack of a natural support base and international sentiment against the United States and President Bush.

New York's bid got a boost Thursday when a judge dismissed four lawsuits against the planned $2 billion stadium, but a key vote on the project was postponed Friday by the state Public Authorities Control Board.

The vote is now scheduled for Monday. Approval of the stadium is crucial to New York's chances.

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