July 4, 2005

Lobbying feverish as 2012 vote looms

By Ossian Shine

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Royalty is in residence and worldleaders will be wheeling around the polished salons and marblehalls of Singapore's opulent Raffles complex.

Welcome to the 2012 Olympic Games host city vote.

Lobbying is feverish in this steamy city-state on the tipof the Malaysian peninsula as hyperbole, brinkmanship andparanoia reign.

On a scale unprecedented in Olympic history, London,Madrid, Moscow, New York and Paris slug it out for the right tostage this sporting extravaganza in seven years' time.

With only 48 hours left before some 114 InternationalOlympic Committee (IOC) members elect the winning city, nothingis being left to chance.

The Raffles complex has been overrun by bid officials andconsultants, celebrities and spin doctors as each city pullsout all the stops in their pursuit of the grand prize.

Rumours of alliances, pacts and agreements are rife. Groupsand quorums huddle in corridors and bars, deep in earnestconversation.

One eye on their company, another on the door.

Millions of dollars have already been spent, millions morehave been pledged by all five hopefuls. But what it all boilsdown to is a July 6 secret vote of the IOC members.

Once electronic voting begins one city will drop out eachround until a candidate polls an overall majority of members'votes.

IOC President Jacques Rogge expects to be able to announcethe winning city shortly after 1930 local time (1130 GMT).


Theory and conjecture reign. The only thing which iscertain is that the race for 2012 is already the most bitterlyfought in Olympic history.

Paris, rejected twice in the last 20 years, has long beenconsidered favorite. But far from being comforted by thatstatus, the French have been ill-at-ease with theirfront-runner role.

"It is not a question of being favorite or of forecasts,"charismatic Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe insisted during abreakfast meeting in his Singapore suite.

"Our chances to win are real but our competitors are verystrong.

"We prefer to concentrate and focus on our performance, noton forecasts. What really matters is not the focus but thereality of what you are trying to achieve."

London's bid chief Sebastian Coe seems carried by themomentum his city has built in the last 12 months, a momentumwhich for most commentators makes London second favorite.

"We are confident that by the time judgment is made, wewill have done everything humanly possible to put London in thevery best position," he said. "The chips will then fall wherethey fall."

Coe's team is being boosted by British Prime Minister TonyBlair who touched down on Singaporean tarmac at the weekend.England soccer captain David Beckham is also due to join thecircus.

Not to be trumped, Paris is wheeling in President JacquesChirac while New York boasts an all-star line-up includingformer First Lady Hillary Clinton and boxing great MuhammadAli.

Queen Sofia of Spain is the figurehead of the quietlyconfident Madrid contingent.

"I have never seen anything like this before," one seniorInternational Olympic Committee member, who declined to benamed, said on Monday.

"All five candidates are major cities. Nobody is predictingwhich way this will go... it could be a three-horse race... afour-horse race. The stakes are extremely high."

That fact is not lost on any one of the candidates ascrocodile smiles and promises of favors clutter the lobbies.

Behind the firm handshakes and back-slaps of confidencelies the certainty that for four of the five cities,recriminations and a massive bill lies ahead.