Truce with protesters helps Paris in Olympic race with London

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The Independent Online

A "truce" between trade unions and leaders of Paris's Olympic bid ensured that a day of strike action yesterday did minimal damage to the French capital's prospects of hosting the 2012 Games, organisers said.

A "truce" between trade unions and leaders of Paris's Olympic bid ensured that a day of strike action yesterday did minimal damage to the French capital's prospects of hosting the 2012 Games, organisers said.

As part of a nationwide dispute, public transport in Paris was disrupted and tens of thousands of workers marched along the traditional route from the Place d'Italie to the Place de la Nation to protect the 35-hour working week.

But their paths did not cross that of the VIP delegation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which was inspecting sporting arenas and other proposed Games venues as part of its four-day visit. The seven unions that called the strike, apparently initially unaware of the IOC visit, refused to reschedule despite intervention by the Paris Mayor, Bertrand Delanoë. Union leaders, aware of high levels of support for the bid, did, however, express contrition and the CFDT trade union even went to the town hall to request baseball caps and T-shirts bearing the "Paris 2012" logo to wear on the march.

"You will be able to spot T-shirts and banners in favour of Paris's candidacy for the 2012 Games," said Francois Chereque from the CFDT, which organises about 50 strikes a year. Bid leaders portrayed the march as "democracy at work". Jerome L'Enfant, head of media at Paris 2012, said: "Organising an Olympics is a matter of managing a possible crisis and minimising risks and that's what we have been doing today."

Services on the Metro were reduced by 50 per cent and flights at the city's two main airports were badly affected. But fears among bid officials that the streets would be congested proved unfounded as many Parisians took the day off work.

No risks were taken though and police outriders were provided to escort buses taking the IOC and media to venues in the north and west of the city. Bid officials insisted the IOC had not expressed any concerns about the strikes, but admitted questions had been raised during a presentation on Wednesday about the threat of social unrest.

The strike action was considered to have done as little harm to Paris's Olympic hopes as did the anti-Semitic row that that engulfed the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, during the visit of the IOC delegation. In contrast, the doubts over a main stadium that overshadowed the New York visit may have proved fatal to its bid.

On a crucial day for the Paris bid it was clear that its team was sticking to an approach that has consistently been more low-key than London's. Visits to the Stade de France, Roland Garros and the proposed athletes' village relied on video presentations recalling highlights of the country's sporting past such as the goal Zinedine Zidane scored to win the 1998 World Cup.

In London two weeks ago, no opportunity was spurned to enliven venue tours with basketball matches, archery displays and even breakdancing at a Tube station.

Influencing Paris's approach is a belief that having been over-confident in its bid for the 2008 Games, razzmatazz will not aid the city's cause. During that bid Paris was thought to have suffered from insularity and to counter this it has now hired a distinctly international team. Concerns remain, however, that the modest approach may backfire.

HEAD TO HEAD

Paris stadium The Stade de France was built in 1998, although there are transport problems. It could hold 71,000 and host athletics and the ceremonies

London stadium The £280m stadium would be at the heart of the Olympic Park near Stratford. The 80,000-capacity venue would host athletics and the ceremonies

Paris aquatic centre A six-pool, 12,000-capacity centre would be built on wasteland in the north of Paris

London aquatic centre Work has started on two 50m swimming pools and a diving pool in the park, with a capacity of 20,000

Paris athletes' village An old, as yet unbought, railway yard in the 17th arrondissement is proposed, costing £1bn. About 17,000 athletes would be housed and the flats would be used later for social housing

London athletes' village In the park, this would be in short walking distance of many venues and later provide 9,000 new homes

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