Olympics bid: Chorus of fine words launches £2.5bn leap of faith

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Tony Blair gave a resounding endorsement of Britain's bid to stage the 2012 Olympic Games yesterday, saying the event would unite people at a time of "difficulties and conflicts".

Speaking at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the Prime Minister said bringing the Games to the "world's greatest capital city" would boost the economy, public health and national esteem.

He sought to address concerns in the sporting world about Britain's commitment to sport by saying his Government was "wholeheartedly" behind the bid and "would not let down" the International Olympic Committee (IOC) if in 18 months' time it chose London over its eight rivals including Paris, Madrid, New York and Rio de Janeiro.

He said: "Above all this country can give some of that passion for sport that can change people's lives and bring them together, resolve differences and give people some hope about the future when we look at all the differences and difficulties and conflicts around us."

Yesterday's launch was the first time that the bid team, led by Barbara Cassani, the chairman, had appeared in public since working during the winter months to meet Thursday's deadline to submit a blueprint for examination at the IOC headquarters in Switzerland.

Politicians rubbed shoulders with Olympic greats to the strains of Freddie Mercury at the event, which sought to inject sparkle into the campaign. Rivals in Madrid, Paris and New York were running similar events yesterday.

Ms Cassani, the American businesswoman and founder of the airline Go, elaborated on plans for the Games, confirming sporting venues and answering concerns likely to be raised at the IOC on issues such as transport, security, accommodation and the legacy of the bid. The blueprint has sought to address IOC concerns that the Olympian spirit was being diluted by sprawling sites that did no favours to the athletes and left behind white elephants.

Under the banner "excellence without extravagance" London has pledged a "compact" Games, locating 17 of the 28 sporting events within a 15-minute bus journey from Stratford, focal point of the Games.

The main site 1,500-acre site in the lower Lea Valley, one of the poorest areas in the UK, would be home to two of the 13 proposed venues, an Olympic stadium and aquatic centre which is likely to be built regardless of the bid's success.

Working with a budget of £2.5bn, provided by the Government, the Mayor of London and funds from the national lottery, the Games would also use 20 existing facilities, including the Millennium Dome for gymnastics, Wimbledon for tennis and Wembley stadium, which seats 90,000, for football.

The London bid plans to exploit the city's heritage, using iconic venues such as Horse Guards Parade for beach volleyball, Greenwich for equestrian events and Hyde Park for the triathlon. This would also ensure television networks had attractive backdrops to events.

The bid's leaders were upbeat about the ability of London's public transport system to cope with the influx of 500,000 people to Stratford every day, pointing to an investment of £17bn in the network, separate from the Olympic budget.

By the time the games were staged, Stratford would be served by four underground and four overland rail lines. Visitors could also alight at Stratford after taking the new Channel Tunnel rail link from King's Cross in 6.5 minutes, Ms Cassani said.

Keith Mills, chief executive of the bid, said: "Transport is one of our strengths because London already handles millions of journeys. There will be a 20 per cent drop in the number of Londoners in the capital in August and billions of pounds spent [on transport] by 2012."

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, who has been a driving force behind the capital's bid, said: "No other city in the world has the scale of diversity we have here. In a sense, London represents the Olympic ideal of destroying the barriers that divide us and bringing people together. Two hundred teams will come. They will find in this city a community from their home country to support and to welcome them."

Ms Cassani said: "London will bring the spirit, energy and passion of the British people to the games. Let's start to turn our vision of the games into reality. The legacy of London 2012 will be enormous and tangible across all areas from sport through to the environment."

Countdown to decision

JANUARY: The nine bidding cities submit "questionnaires" to the IOC outlining plans for the 2012 Games

MAY: The field of "applicants" is reduced from nine to five by the IOC after which international lobbying can begin

AUGUST: Ms Cassani and her team travel to the Olympic Games in Athens to lobby IOC members

15 NOVEMBER: Candidate cities submit full "bid book", a document giving details of the technical aspects of their plans, including security, funding, sporting facilities, infrastructure, transport and accommodation.

FEBRUARY/MARCH 2005: IOC evaluation commission visits London and other candidate cities

MAY: The IOC Evaluation Commission prepares a detailed report summarising the potential of each candidate city based on the inspection visits and bid books. The Commission's report is distributed to all IOC members.

6 JULY:Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, announces the result of the vote by IOC members at the 117th IOC session in Singapore to determine the city which will host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.