Leader of London's Olympic bid admits: our rivals are ahead

The leader of London's bid to stage the Olympics in 2012 said yesterday that the main rivals, New York and Paris, were already ahead in the race.

Barbara Cassani, the American businesswoman and founder of the budget airline Go, conceded that the campaigns running in France and the United Sates had a higher profile. Questioned by MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, she sought to allay mounting concerns that the London bid, which does not yet have a logo or website, was running behind schedule four months after winning govern-ment backing.

She said: "In some ways we are running behind Paris and New York and for good reasons. Paris has already bid before and New York had an internal [nationwide] competition and created materials for that. We plan to have merchandise and are talking to retailers and having discussions with the BBC at the highest level."

Ms Cassani chose her appearance before the MPs, headed by Gerald Kaufman, to announce the appointment of three vice-chairmen. The double Olympic champion Sebastian Coe, recently appointed to the governing council of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, will work with the Olympic silver medallist Alan Pascoe and the Granada chairman Charles Allen, a chairman of last year's Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

Mrs Cassani rebuffed concerns voiced by Michael Fabricant over an apparent lack of "schmoozing" of members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who will choose the winner from a field of nine cities in July 2005.

She has been criticised for spending too little time at the recent World Athletics Championships in Paris, which provided a rare opportunity for cities to promote their bids.

In the six weeks since her appointment, she has concentrated on recruitment and preparing a questionnaire to be submitted to the IOC in January. She said: "The time will come for us to sit in lobbies, but I am a great believer that to sell something you have to have the product in top-notch shape."

Asked whether she was concerned at squabbling between government departments, she said: "So far so good. If I see it not working I will not wait. I will raise my voice."

She also sought to answer concerns on the ability of public transport to cope with spectators, the media and athletes. She said the infrastructure would cope without the proposed Crossrail project, but that she was unable to present transport solutions until the location of the venues in the Lower Lea Valley was agreed.

Mrs Cassani said many people were unconvinced of London's bid after the Government withdrew backing for a stadium in north London to host the 2005 World Athletics Championships. She said the new Wembley stadium would be used for football only, while the Dome in Greenwich might host basketball and gymnastics.

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