Gerry Robinson, the chairman of the Arts Council of England, emerged yesterday as one of the favourites to run the Government's bid to stage the 2012 Olympic Games. The former head of Granada Television is on an official shortlist of five to be interviewed next week at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport for the two-year tenure as chairman of the Olympic bid.
He is likely to be the biggest rival to the former diplomat Sir Christopher Meyer. In his role with the Arts Council, Mr Robinson has fostered links with Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who has arguably the most influential voice in selecting the winner, and has impressed with his connections.
Sources close to the recruitment said: "He has secured additional funding for the Arts Council for England and knows Tessa well; that relationship is very important." And a media figure may be preferred to allay concerns that Paris had already stolen a march on London with the slickness and creativity of its bid last week extolling the country's multicultural image and success at the 1998 World Cup.
The other candidates for the £200,000-a-year job are Barbara Cassani, founder of the budget airline Go, the Antipodean businessman Kevin Roberts and Granada's chief executive, Charles Allen, a protégé of Mr Robinson.
The candidates were selected from 60 people identified by the headhunter Saxton Bampfylde Hever. Each will be subject to an hour-long "fact-finding" interview by Ms Jowell, Ken Livingstone, the London Mayor, and Craig Reedie, chairman of the British Olympics Association. They will ask the candidates whether they can combine busy working lives with the demands of leading a bid team of 60 people for the Government, the London Assembly and the BOA. Although the post will initially be two days a week, it will become a full-time role as the deadline approaches in 2005.
Final interviews will be done in front of a panel including Simon Clegg, chief executive of the BOA, Sue Street, a senior civil servant, and Jeff Jacobs, a senior adviser to Mr Livingstone. An announcement is to made by July.
The successful candidate will have satisfied the three principals they have the personal drive, connections and, crucially, the social skills to convince a majority of the 164 members of the International Olympics Committee. One of the first tasks is to appoint a chief executive to control the daily project management.
Unpaid ambassadors will also be assembled to reflect the diversity of Britain and are expected to include David Beckham and Sir Trevor McDonald. The chairman will also assemble a team of planners, architects, accountants, marketing and public relations staff to be based on the 50th floor of the Canary Wharf tower, chosen as a symbolic commitment to east London near where the main Olympic stadium and village would be built in Stratford.
Paris, Madrid, New York, Leipzig and Moscow have chosen leaders from their city councils to head their bids.
In the running for top prize
Sir Christopher Ceyer 6-4 fav
"Tony Blair's favourite diplomat" impressed as ambassador to the US. He was press secretary to John Major when he was Prime Minister. But he has little commercial experience and lacks free time (he is also chairman of the Press Complaints Commission).
Gerry Robinson 5-2
Seen as one of the best businessmen in Britain in the past 25 years. Former chief executive of Granada and chairman of Allied Domecq and Arts Council England. On the original "long list" but he was thought to be too busy for the job.
Barbara Cassani 5-2
The founder of the former budget airline Go.
Graduated in international relations and joined accountants Coopers & Lybrand in Washington before moving to London. Women figureheads from the Athens and Turin campaigns proved popular but a Briton is probably preferred.
Charles Allen 5-1
Experience in successfully organising an international sports event, the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, will count in his favour. He also masterminded Granada's acquisition of London Weekend Television. The collapse of ITV Digital may affect his chances.
Kevin Roberts 6-1
Worldwide chief of Saatchi & Saatchi. He has worked for Mary Quant, Gillette, Pepsi Cola and Procter & Gamble, and has written on how the sporting practices can benefit business. But the panel is likely to favour a Briton over a Kiwi.
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