July 5, 2005

Paris under pressure as IOC session opens

By Paul Radford

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Paris, favorite to host the 2012Olympic Games, was under increasing pressure Tuesday asInternational Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge openeda four-day session with two major divisive issues at stake.

Rogge told IOC members they had a tough decision to make onWednesday when they choose the 2012 hosts from five major worldcity candidates -- London, Madrid, Moscow, New York and Paris-- in the most closely fought bid contest in Olympic history.

"The election ... will not be easy in view of the very highquality of the candidates," Rogge told members as he opened theIOC's 117th Session at Singapore's Esplanade performing artscenter.

"Four cities will, of course, be deeply disappointed butthey should know that a candidature, even if it is notselected, leaves a tangible legacy."

Before the session closes Saturday, the IOC will also haveto decide which of the 28 sports, if any, it will drop from theOlympic program and which sports would be introduced instead.

Earlier Tuesday, French President Jacques Chirac arrived toboost Paris's apparently faltering bid to stage the 2012Olympic Games.

Paris is regarded as favorite but faces a growing challengefrom London and a potential threat too from Madrid and NewYork.

Chirac arrived in the city state two days after BritishPrime Minister Tony Blair landed to promote London's bid withIOC members.

"I have come here to support one candidacy," the FrenchPresident said. "We are in the Olympic world -- that means fairplay, that means that the best should win and that is what Iwant. And naturally I want the best to be Paris."

Unlike Blair, Chirac has not been meeting individualmembers but he will take part in the presentation of Paris'sbid to the IOC Wednesday.

Blair was flying home Tuesday to host the G8 summit inGleneagles, Scotland, where Chirac will join him after theresult of the vote has been announced.

The decision is expected shortly after 7:30 p.m local time(1130 GMT).


Rogge has described the vote as too close to call and hisview has found a strong echo among members and candidatedelegations with few ready to make a confident prediction.

New York, whose chances appeared to have been blown lastmonth when they had to make a late switch to their main stadiumvenue, seemed to have bounced back confidently.

They flew in Senator Hillary Clinton, the former FirstLady, and boxing icon Muhammad Ali, to join mayor MichaelBloomberg in wooing the IOC and the media Tuesday.

Ali appeared alongside Bloomberg, who described him as atrue Olympic champion. "He was a gold medal winner and a truehero to an awful lot of us," he said.

Moscow, regarded as the only real outsiders in the vote,announced that President Vladimir Putin would appear in a videoduring its presentation and that he would speak in Englishpublicly for the first time.

Until Chirac's arrival, the French had kept a surprisinglylow profile.

The Paris delegation is well aware that favorites haveoften appeared jinxed in the past. Three of the last four votesfor Summer Games hosts were won by candidates who had not beenconsidered as frontrunners.

Blair stressed the cosmopolitan characteristics of theBritish capital at a news conference on Tuesday: "London is avibrant, open city that welcomes all people and all cultures,"he said.

New York, also bidding for the first time, was upbeat onTuesday at an early news conference by Clinton.

"This is a great bid from a great city for the greatestinternational event there is," she said before adding areference to the September 11 attack.

"We're standing here a little less than four years from thetime when we were attacked and we're telling you that New YorkCity is the place to bring the 2012 Olympics -- because thepeople of New York are resilient, they are extraordinary intheir capacity to pull together and plan for the future."