Blair goes for Olympic glory

PM throws weight behind £2.5bn bid despite new fears of transport chaos in London
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Indy Politics

Britain will seek today to convince the international sporting community and a sceptical home public that London is capable of hosting the most prestigious event in global sport ­ the 2012 Olympic Games.

At a launch at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, Tony Blair will give his backing to the leader of the bid, Barbara Cassani, as she lays out the strategy to see off rivals such as Paris and New York.

Sporting greats and representatives from financial backers, the Government and the Greater London Authority, will learn for the first time where each event is to be staged, ranging from the proposed main site and Olympic stadium in Stratford, east London, to beach volleyball in Horse Guards Parade and archery at Lord's cricket ground.

According to William Hill, London is favourite to host the Games at 6-4; Paris is 7-4; Madrid 11-2; New York 9-1; Rio de Janeiro and Istanbul, which is bidding for the fourth time, are both 10-1; Moscow and Leipzig 16-1 and Havana 50-1.

London's combination of new and traditional sites is designed to appeal to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which took delivery of the "questionnaires" yesterday ­ a key to overcoming the first hurdle for competing cities.

Mrs Cassani, the American businesswoman and founder of the Go airline, is expected to promote the virtues of a compact Games but is under pressure from the IOC to disperse events around the country.

The bid company, formed after the Government gave its backing to the bid last summer, will also attempt to head off fears that London's public transport network is ill- equipped to cope.

Its case suffered a setback yesterday when the Government said it would not provide backing for a £1bn rail link. The East London Line extension, supported by the London Mayor Ken Livingstone and the bid company, was seen as crucial to ferrying spectators to the event to take pressure off the Jubilee Line extension. An internal document from Transport for London, headed by Bob Kiley, said it would not be "attractive" to run large volumes of buses and coaches as an alternative.

Amid fears that the Games, at an estimated cost of £2.5bn, will leave behind a series of "white elephants", the bid company is expected to keep new projects to a minimum. Under the "masterplan", the main stadium in Stratford would be occupied after the Games probably by either West Ham United or Tottenham Hotspur.

The Prime Minister's appearance alongside Mr Livingstone and Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, is likely to send a strong signal to the IOC headquarters in Switzerland. Some members of the committee, which will choose the successful bidder in July 2005, are not convinced about the extent of political support after the Millennium Dome fiasco and the Government's withdrawal after winning the right to stage the 2005 World Athletics Championships at Picketts Lock, north London. Mr Livingstone earlier this week defended the city's bid against accusations from Sir Bob Scott, who led two failed Olympic bids by Manchester before securing last year's Commonwealth Games, that Britain's capital was not universally popular and had far less infrastructure in place than its main perceived rival, Paris.

The nine applicants will be whittled down on 18 May when the IOC executive board, having considered the responses to its questionnaire, announces which bids will progress to being official "candidates". Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, has said that he believes most of the bidding cities will clear the first hurdle, although five may go through. He has named London, Paris, Madrid, New York and Moscow. Complete bids must be submitted by 15 November and the IOC will then send its evaluation commission to inspect each city. The commission was established in the wake of the scandal over corruption linked to Salt Lake City's securing of the Winter Games of 2002, after which IOC members were banned from visiting cities which had made bids.

Craig Reedie, one of Britain's three IOC members, was a member of the commission that inspected bidders for the 2008 Games but under IOC rules he is banned from playing the same role this time because of his connection with one of the bidders.

The final decision over the destination of the 2012 Olympics will be announced after the vote by all 126 members at their session in Singapore on 6 July 2005.

Mike Lee, the spokesman for the London bid, said the organisers were pleased with the way the campaign was gathering momentum. "We feel we have made excellent progress," he said. "We have certainly caught up and the feeling is London is among the leading bidders."

Yesterday's submissions to the IOC marked the beginning of the first stage of a campaign to raise public awareness of the bid. Posters by M&C Saatchi of a hurdler clearing Tower Bridge and a high jumper going over the London Eye will appear on sites in the capital.