Ex-diplomat favourite to lead Games bid

Front-runners for the main job emerge as campaign to bring the Olympics to the capital gathers pace
Click to follow
Indy Politics

Sir Christopher Meyer, a former UK ambassador to the US, last night emerged as the favourite to leadLondon's bid for the 2012 Olympics. Others in the running include Michael Grade, the TV mogul, and Barbara Cassani, the former chief executive of the no-frills airline Go.

With government backing announced last week, the hunt for the person to take on the crucial role of bid leader has entered its final phase. Head-hunters have drawn up a list of 40 to 50 possibles, from which Sir Christopher, now the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, is expected to be chosen.

The appointment will be made by a government representative – almost certainly the Culture Minister, Tessa Jowell – along with the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and a representative from the British Olympic Association.

Each has the power of veto, but the BOA's support for Sir Christopher and his high standing within political and diplomatic circles have given him the edge over the others. As well as Cassani and Grade, these include the former BP chairman and trade minister Lord Simon, Vodafone's chief executive, Sir Christopher Gent, and BT's chairman, Sir Christopher Bland. Even Sir Richard Branson has not been ruled out, sources say.

England's failure to secure the 2006 World Cup – when Sir Bobby Charlton, the public face of the bid, lacked expert support – and the lessons of the successful Olympic bids by Sydney and Athens for the 2000 and 2004 Games have underlined the need for a politically astute heavyweight well versed in the ways of international relations.

Sir Christopher Meyer, one of Tony Blair's most favoured diplomats, fits the bill. He speaks five languages, and he was widely respected for the way he represented the UK in Washington. The role played by his wife Catherine is also not to be underestimated. Sir Christopher, 59, was press secretary to John Major when he was Prime Minister and to Geoffrey Howe during his time as Foreign Secretary.

Bob Scott, who headed two unsuccessful Olympic campaigns by Manchester, said the "leadership of the bid is absolutely fundamental". Between now and July 2005, when the International Olympic Committee decides, the bid leader and team will be on a relentless round of diplomacy and negotiation, making the case for the capital to more than 100 IOC delegates.

"Unless a minister or the Mayor takes a prominent role, there has to be someone that the IOC understands is behind the bid," Mr Scott said. While the likes of Sir Steve Redgrave, five-times Olympic champion, and athlete-turned-politician Sebastian Coe will certainly be involved, no prominent British sportsman or woman has the business or negotiating experience for the top job.

The chairman of "Bidco", the company that will put London's case together, will have to oversee a project which, if it comes to fruition, will cost an estimated £2.37bn.

Twenty top tips to secure the biggest prize in sport

Make sure your government is right behind you: London's bid is off to a good start in that the Prime Minister is offering his "wholehearted support" and the bid is backed by assurances of public money and cash raised through an Olympic lottery. But government uncertainty dogged earlier big sporting projects – Wembley and the Picketts Lock athletics stadium – and at the first sign of wavering, London's bid could be fatally undermined.

Time it right: A bit too late for the London bid, but there is an unofficial IOC pattern that tries to ensure geographic spread. Since Asia (Seoul) in 1988, we've gone Europe in 1992 (Barcelona), America in 1996 (Atlanta), Australia in 2000 (Sydney), Europe in 2004 (Athens), and Asia in 2008 (Beijing). 2012 looks like America's turn again, so step forward, New York. If the organisers went back to Europe but awarded the Games to Paris, then London's chances could be blown for 20 years or more.

Choose the right bid leader: Whether it's Barbara Cassani, Sir Christopher Meyer or Phil Tufnell, this is the person around whom everything revolves. If they don't have the stomach for a long fight, then forget it. They have to eat and sleep nothing but the Games for the next two years.

Don't over-schmooze: Since the Salt Lake City bribery scandal revealed the corruption at the dark heart of the Olympic movement, the IOC has cleaned up its act. The days are over when IOC members enjoyed bidding cities' lavish hospitality in return for votes. So it's not worth trying it on.

But still make sure you know who you are dealing with: Bob Scott, veteran of two failed bids by Manchester, says that by the time the Games are awarded, "you probably need to know the shoe size of the daughters of every IOC member".

Get the British press singing from the same hymn sheet: Already this looks a forlorn hope, thanks to various private agendas. The Daily Telegraph has campaigned for a London bid, and, in a "Sun Wot Won It" moment, carried a headline on Friday that read, "Telegraph set the agenda – and the answer is ... YES". The Times is seriously miffed at seeing "ownership" of the Games claimed by its arch-rival, so it poured cold water on the bid with a front-page story claiming that Tony Blair had told the Cabinet to steer clear of any involvement "in case the campaign fails". The Daily Mirror has come out strongly against the London bid.

Sort out the clash of civilisations: A quarter of the IOC votes will come from Islamic countries. Neither London nor New York can expect to be favoured by them.

Make sure you know how to pronounce the name of the IOC president: It's Jacques Rogge (rhymes with dog).

No jokes about famous Belgians: Mr Rogge is from Belgium.

Brush up your language skills: There are 127 IOC members from all over the world, and they don't all speak perfect English. "The IOC is more United Nations than UN Security Council," says Bob Scott. With that in mind ...

Easy on the anglocentrism: Britain might have invented almost every sport going, but that cuts little ice now that we are no longer anywhere near the best at them. And remember that it was a Frenchman who founded the modern Olympic movement – Baron de Coubertin.

Don't rubbish other bids: Even if one of them is Paris.

Don't tell the world you "deserve" the Olympics: Lack of humility did for the Greeks when Athens was bidding to host the '96 Games. It was 100 years on from the birth of the modern Olympics, and Greece was where it had all begun. The Greeks told everyone it was their "right" to be hosts. Oh no it wasn't.

Don't use the five Olympic rings in your logo: The Olympic movement guards its logo jealously. It's not to be pinched by would-be hosts.

Remember the will of the people: No Games has gone to a city that didn't really want them. By bypassing the private sector, the Government has put much of the onus on the public purse, and when that 20 per cent surcharge on London council tax bills comes round in 2005, you don't want the rumblings of discontent heard at IOC headquarters.

Come up with a memorable mascot: We all remember World Cup Willy from 1966. But does anyone recall the mascot for the England-hosted Euro '96 football championship? Or for last year's Commonwealth Games in Manchester? Exactly.

Do the maths: IOC members tend to vote in blocks. If Madrid bids for 2012 (and Rio and Havana are out of the running), it's likely to be the first choice of all of Latin America. Don't panic. Because votes are transferred as the city with the least support drops out, you can be the first choice of only 20 to 30 IOC members and still win. You just have to secure enough second-choice votes.

Clean up Hackney fast: Last year it was claimed to have more gun crime than Soweto.

Fight legends with legends: All the bidding cities will wheel out their sporting greats. But only London can offer a five-times Olympic gold medallist. Over to you, Sir Steve.

Don't mention the Dome: Enough said.