(P112) Olympics: Countdown to bid launch

by Simon Hart, 11 May 2003, Daily Telegraph

Spiros Capralos, executive director of the Athens Olympic Organising Committee, had his own question as he fielded queries from a delegation of team leaders and officials during a British Olympic Association fact-finding mission to the Greek capital last week. "Tell me," he said, "is it true that London is going to bid for the 2012 Games?"

Simon Clegg, the BOA chief executive, deflected the question, just as he has been doing ever since the Government postponed the decision in February because of the impending Iraq war, though no one in the room was fooled. It is no longer a matter of if or even when London announces a bid (probably May 22, barring another unforeseen international crisis). The question exercising British minds now is how to mount a campaign that culminates in a winning majority at the International Olympic Committee session in Singapore in two years' time.

Even the staging of the announcement has been planned in meticulous detail. Despite initial reservations in Whitehall about turning it into a Ken Livingstone show, political differences with the Mayor of London have been put aside for the greater good of the bid and the official launch will be held at the Greater London Authority's headquarters. The top floor of City Hall enjoys stunning panoramic views over London and, adorned with the Olympic five-ring symbol, will provide potent television and photographic images to maximise the impact at home and abroad. One official described the opportunity as "irresistible".

The jostling over who will actually speak at the press launch has also been resolved. Of the three key stakeholders, the BOA will be represented by Clegg and chairman Craig Reedie, the Government by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and Sports Minister Richard Caborn and the GLA by Livingstone. A current athlete, possibly Paula Radcliffe if she is available, will also be called on to say a few words.

"There's been a fair amount of negotiation behind the scenes about who should sit at the top table but we now seem to be agreed on the numbers," said an insider. "At one point so many people wanted to be there it was starting to look like an EU summit."

One thing that will not be announced at the launch is the identity of the chairman of the bid committee, who will run the campaign and turn the current plans for east London into a detailed, formal proposal. Sir Christopher Meyer, the former ambassador to Washington and now the chairman of the Press Complaints Council, is one of the BOA's preferred choices, though the three stakeholders, each of whom has a veto, do not expect to make an appointment for at least another month. They are due to meet on Tuesday to finalise a final shortlist of between six and 10 candidates.

"The process is ongoing," said Clegg. "We started with a long list and as time has gone on we have narrowed it down. We are now contacting people to see whether they would be interested or not. Some may not want to get involved and some may not be available. Others on the shortlist who say they are interested are the ones who we will be wanting to interview."

Once the bid committee is operational - the stakeholders have received several offers of premises in central London and Docklands - the work will begin in earnest to finalise the technical aspects of the bid. That will form the core of the committee's activities since the traditional schmoozing of IOC members is no longer permitted under strict rules introduced in the wake of the Salt Lake City votes-for-favours scandal. Indeed, this week two BOA officials will travel to Madrid, which has already announced its candidacy for 2012, to make sure the Spanish do not overstep the mark when they host an international sports conference and an IOC executive board meeting.

Clegg will take a back seat once the bid committee is in full swing and will concentrate instead on preparations for the Athens Olympics. Last week he headed a reconnaissance trip to Greece for team leaders from 26 sports, who were given a guided tour of the half-built, though nevertheless impressive athletes' village as well the few sports venues that could be accessed safely through the mass of cranes and diggers. The Greek organisers insist they are winning the race to complete all the building work in the remaining 460 days before the opening ceremony.

Also in Athens last week was Caborn, who was attending a meeting of EU sports ministers but whose eye was clearly on the bigger picture. At a reception hosted by the British ambassador, he revealed he had spoken to his French counterpart, who had confirmed that Paris will definitely bid for the 2012 Games and will make a formal announcement within the next month.

Apart from Paris and Madrid, the other cities bidding are New York, Moscow and Leipzig, though Caborn believes it will turn into a straight shoot-out between Britain and France. It is a contest that the British Government would clearly relish, though it brings its own pressures. "All I can say," said Caborn, "is that we'd better bloody well win."

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13/5/03 Last updated 13/5/03