Mills can keep it clean - and so convincing

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Maybe it's because he's a Londoner, and an East End boy to boot, that Keith Mills feels confident the International Olympic Committee will end up playing Ken Livingstone's Regeneration Game when votes are cast in Singapore next year for 2012's Olympic City.

The accent these days may be more Kent than Cockney, and he may be a millionaire yachtie, but he hasn't forgotten his roots. London's proposed Olympic home is where the heart is - which is why the man orchestrating the capital's Games bid will be the key figure in convincing the IOC, and the world, that the Olympics should be held largely in what is probably at present the least glamorous site of any of the nine competing venues.

Of course, that would change dramatically if London gets the nod over Paris, Madrid, Rio, New York and a clutch of other prestigious rivals, and as the London bid's chief executive, Mills is primed with the task of running a campaign that is not only convincing but clean.

While Barbara Cassani, the diva from Boston via Barnes, took centre stage at the Royal Opera House on Friday alongside Tony Blair, the political Pavarotti from Downing Street, who thankfully is now singing heartily from the same song sheet, the show's producer was already planning Act Two, working on the final bid document, which will stand almost four feet high. The aim is to get 90 per cent of this completed before the Athens Games in August, only after which will IOC minds be concentrated on 2012.

Since the 53-year-old factory worker's son, who dreamed up the Air Miles and Nectar card schemes, was installed by Cassani last October, the 50th-floor HQ at Canary Wharf in London's Docklands has been transformed into something resembling one of the busy newsrooms of the several journals that inhabit the same tower block. It was there last week that Mills, who heads a team of 70, sealed the buff envelope containing the 25-page document detailing London's proposals for staging the Games which was delivered to the IOC in Lausanne on Wednesday. It was clearly marked: Do Not Bend.

It is a philosophy he insists London's bid will follow to the letter. "As far as we are concerned there will be no dirty tricks," he says. "We will certainly not go around rubbishing any other bid. It would be counterproductive. There are new rules now, and we are still learning them. Not only are we not supposed to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of other bids, but I do not think it is appropriate. We want to run a completely ethical bid but we also need to ensure that London is not disadvantaged in what is clearly going to be a global lobbying exercise. We want to work with the IOC to make sure that the bidding process is fair and equal."

Conscious of the corruption that has bedevilled the bidding process for previous Olympic bids, the IOC have set out new guidelines. Both the British prime minister and the mayor of Paris have been "yellow-carded" by the IOC for supposed electioneering. Says Mills: "When you put new rules into place they are open to interpretation, and that is what has been happening in the past few weeks. Now we just hope everyone will play by the rules, because we intend to. Pacing ourselves over the next 18 months is going to be critical, and when the IOC look into our eyes they need to believe that what we say is going to happen, will happen."

Which is why the sighs of relief were almost audible in Covent Garden's stalls when Blair pledged the Government's "total and absolute" support for the 2012 cause. Mills terms the London bid, with its projected transformation of the East End and use of iconic sites, "stunning". "I had no preconceived ideas when I arrived here and I am used to doing things from standing starts, but the scale and complexity of the project is enormous."

When Mills took over it was generally perceived that London had been slow out of the starting blocks. He agrees, but adds: "Someone said to me the other day that now we've jumped into a taxi and caught up with the others. As of now we are all on a level plane. Ours is a fresh, new bid and one that I believe will appeal to the IOC.

"In the current climate I think the IOC are looking for a professional bid and a really safe pair of hands. They are clearly very concerned about security, and that is one of our real strengths.

"I think with this bid we have the right balance between new infrastructures, world-class facilities and London landmarks that people around the world will immediately recognise on TV. It is a balanced and compact package, and one that I feel will play to the new vision of the IOC, which is a Games that delivers all the flair they got from Barcelona and Sydney in a sensible and secure environment."

Insiders - and outsiders - are deeply impressed with the way Mills, with no previous experience of sports administration, has taken charge of the nuts and bolts of the operation. Craig Reedie, the chairman of the British Olympic Association and a member of both the IOC and the London bid board, says: "Keith is one of the great strengths of our bid. He has two huge advantages - one is his management skills and knowledge of business, and the other is his ability to remain calm surrounded by a group of absolutely dynamic tyros. That is a priceless asset."

London has certainly taken a giant leap forward, but Mills knows that any hint of arrogance or the sort of premature triumphalism that was the ruination of England's last football World Cup bid could cost London dearly. Fortunately the man who formed the Air Miles high club is keeping his feet firmly on the ground, and there is no doubt he will be quick to stamp on those of any bandwagoning politicians who get too carried away too soon.