Even the mischievous telecommunications apparatchik who allocated 007 as Russia's international dialling code could not have envisaged that Moscow would become the scene for a sports summit that is a recipe for an Ian Fleming thriller. Next weekend sees the 112th get-together of the International Olympic Committee, a session which will redirect the course of the Olympic movement for the next generation. It will be a convention embracing political chicanery, diplomatic duplicity and Bondesque cloak and daggery, with more daggers than cloaks.
So, to Russia with not too much love lost between the cities jostling to host the 2008 Olympics and the candidates vying for the presidential throne about to be vacated by the Goldfinger of the Games, Juan Antonio Samaranch.
There is no Dr No but there is Dr Kim, the South Korean who wields his influence as effectively as Oddjob did his steel-rimmed bowler hat. Insiders say he is increasingly likely to succeed Samaranch, who is finally stepping down after 21 chequered years, when the new president is elected tomorrow week. But don't bet on it. Indeed don't risk a rouble on anything where the IOC are concerned, because this is an organisation which can easily disappear into its own political labyrinth.
Three nights before he takes his final curtain, Samaranch will perform his last official duty when opening the buff envelope to reveal the winning city for 2008 from the short-list of Beijing, Toronto, Paris, Osaka and Istanbul.
Five cities, five presidential candidates, five Olympic rings. Symbolic, or what? It would be no surprise if Moscow introduced five rings to its famous State Circus for the occasion. Somewhere in there there's also a five-card trick but just how the hands will be played once the cards are on the table next weekend remains a matter of intense intrigue.
The last time I was in Moscow the Kremlin ruled the red roost; now it is widely supposed that Moscow is run by the Russian Mafia, so the IOC, that oligarchy composed largely of the rich, the royals and the politically empowered, should feel at home. They may not be in the business of making people offers they can't refuse but, as we have witnessed several times, some of them have been compromised by accepting offers they should have refused.
Not that Craig Reedie and Princess Anne, Britain's two emissaries on the IOC are among them. Their integrity has remained unblemished, which is why they will refrain from allowing political propaganda to cloud their judgement when making their choice by secret ballot in both elections. One suspects that the clean-as-a-whistle Belgian surgeon Jacques Rogge, a good friend of Reedie's will be their preferred choice for president. But picking the 2008 host is a more complex problem, for it requires stepping gingerly through a minefield of sensitivities.
Reedie, the British Olympic Association chairman, reckons to delete upwards of 100 emails a day sent by disaffected Tibetan groups protesting that a vote for Beijing would be a slap in the face for human rights. He has also received more than 5,000 postcards from the Tibetans and members of the outlawed political sect Falun Gong, and no doubt the village postie has been trundling up the long driveway of HRH's Gloucestershire abode with sack loads of similar anti-Chinese missives.
The IOC are insisting that all 122 voting members – a number reduced by one last week because of the death of a Middle Eastern delegate – dismiss such moral pressure from the conscience and put their cross against the city which is best capable of staging the Games on technical merit only. Reedie, as a member of the evaluation committee (only a select handful now visit candidate cities after the Salt Lake City gravy train went off the rails) has seen for himself the potential of Beijing. So have I. The Chinese could put on the Olympics at the drop of a chopstick.
But what about human rights, the mass executions and the repression of democracy? A fair question. But the IOC have not been particularly picky in the past in handing the Games to some pretty rotten regimes. No one seemed bothered before Berlin in 1936 and there wasn't a peep from them when the Mexicans openly massacred 300 protesting students just before the Games of 1968. Seoul was not a paragon of political correctness 20 years later. And what about Moscow in 1980? True, half the world stayed away but I believe the Games opened the eyes of many Muscovites and might even have been part of the catalyst which led to the changes nine years later. The same could happen in Beijing.
As the race reaches the home straight the Chinese are still a nose in front of Toronto and Paris but they recall, with apprehension, how they were pipped at the post by Sydney for the 2000 Games. It could just happen again.
Toronto, while one of the western world's least exciting cities, has a sound, workable bid based on excellent facilities with 25 of 28 events earmarked for an attractive waterfront site. Moreover it has some influential allies, including several of the 15 athletes newly appointed to the IOC who are believed to be hostile to Beijing. More important, perhaps, than even the IOC in the alphabetical soup kitchen of sport, are NBC, the US television network, who are lobbying fiercely for Toronto because it is time-zone friendly.
He who pays the TV money up front likes to call the tune. This didn't happen in Sydney, a ratings disaster for NBC, and they are pulling out all the stops to avoid a repetition so soon. Prime time in Toronto is also prime time in New York, whereas prime time in Beijing is breakfast time in New York and the middle of the night in Los Angeles. The third factor which could conspire against Beijing is a human one, not of rights, but of personalities. Dr Un Yong Kim, who seems to have nudged ahead of Rogge, Canada's Dick Pound, the black American Anita DeFranz and the Hungarian Pal Schmitt, is a pivotal powerhouse. He desperately wants the top job but knows that if Beijing get the Games the IOC will not want to go out on a Far Eastern limb by electing an Asian as president, which is why the Taekwondo chief who likes to be called Mickey is displaying his martial artistry by privately whipping up support for Toronto. It is a Machiavellian manoeuvre, for he is also aware that if the Canadian city gets the Games the IOC will not want to install the Canadian Pound as president.
The likelihood is that Beijing will win on the final vote, a decision which would at least keep the world's largest sporting nation on a progressive route for the next seven years, but there could well yet be a twist in this tale of five cities.Reuse content