(P110) Olympics: Government ready to back campaign as early as next week

By Mihir Bose - Daily Telegraph 9 May 2003

A Government decision to back a London bid for the 2012 Olympics could come as early as next Thursday following next week's Cabinet meeting.

The Cabinet have not considered the Olympics since it was briefly mentioned at a meeting in the first week of February. The debate was put on ice during the Iraq war, but a list of 10 possible bid leaders has already been produced.

With the war now over, insiders are hopeful that the issue can be decided at next Thursday's meeting. Earlier, the same sources had been insisting that no decision was possible until the Cabinet meeting of May 22. However, quicker than expected progress has been made on the sticking points of financing the bid and, unless there are last-minute hold-ups, an announcement next week looks quite possible.

With Tony Blair now committed to the bid, No 10 favours a quick announcement of Government backing as it will generate much-needed favourable photo opportunities for the Prime Minister with Olympic medal winners led by the iconic Sir Steve Redgrave. An announcement next Thursday will also help spike a potential rival.

Next week Madrid is hosting a week-long sports jamboree where the great and good of sport will speak on a variety of issues including the benefits of hosting the Olympic Games. Also, the International Olympic Committee are holding a meeting of their executive board in the city. Madrid, which is also biding for 2012, will undoubtedly use the occasion to sell the city and a London announcement in the midst of the Madrid celebrations will steal some of the Spanish thunder.

Yesterday in Athens, where Richard Caborn, the Sports Minister was meeting fellow sports ministers, his French counterpart told him Paris was likely to announce by the end of May or early June and London would like to scoop them.

The Government have also honed a list of possible bid leaders from 60 to a more manageable 10. As already revealed by The Daily Telegraph some weeks ago the Government asked head hunters Saxton Bampfylde Hever to draw up a list of possible runners and riders for this important job. They drew up three lists: an A list, a B list and a C list. Each has 20 names.

The A list is essentially a list of captains of business and industry and contains names such as Howard Davies, the retiring head of the Financial Services Authority.

It also includes Sir Christopher Meyer, the former ambassador to the United States who recently took over as head of the Press Complaints Commission. He is the man the British Olympic Association would like to lead the London bid but ministers do not see him as front runner.

Ministerial fancy may turn to others on the list such as Lord Levy, the financial adviser to the Prime Minister and his Middle East envoy.

Others on the A list are Sir Christopher Bland, former chairman of BBC governors and now chairman of BT, Sir Christopher Gent, head of Vodaphone, Sir Michael Grade, the former head of Channel 4 and now chairman of Camelot, and Lord Simon, a former minister in the Lord's who is very close to No 10.

The B list has names such as Mathew Allen, head of Pizza Express, David Ross, the boss of Carphone Warehouse, and Diane Thompson, from Camelot. Bob Geldoff is on the C list.

While some of the people in the lists have been asked whether they would allow their name to go forward, no formal approach will be made until the announcement of Government backing for the bid has been made public. After that the Government have provided for a four-week period during which to conduct interviews and choose a bid leader.

He or she will be the non-executive chairman of the company that will run the London bid. This company will be limited by guarantee and will have on its board representatives of the Government, the BOA and the London Mayor. The bid leader's task will be to act as the front man, the day-to-day running of the bid will be done by a chief executive. After the bid announcement, headhunters will be employed to provide a short-list.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport will remain the ministry in charge of the bid with Tessa Jowell, as Secretary of State, the minister responsible.

The Cabinet subcommittee, Misc 12, which back in January gave a go-ahead for the bid provided the financing was sorted out, is now headed by John Prescott, who took over [from] Jack Straw, and [Tessa] Jowell will report to him and he, in turn, will report to the full Cabinet.

There has been extensive discussion in Whitehall as to whether there should be a minister solely responsible for the bid. The Government were warned against such a step by Rod McGeogh, the lawyer who led Sydney's successful bid for the 2000 Olympics. He told ministers that an Olympic minister should be appointed only once the bid has been successful, which is what the Australians did with such terrific effect.

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9/5/03 Last updated 9/5/03