Security must be 'top priority' for London bid

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The Independent Online

Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, emerged from a meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday to offer London a clear idea of what it needs to do to secure the 2012 Games. It doesn't need to worry about continental rotation. It doesn't need to worry about David Beckham. It does need to worry about the fundamental technical details of its bid, with security at the top of the list.

"If you look at what I'd say were essential elements in a bid, I would put security first," Rogge said at a press conference following his informal chat at Downing Street with key players including the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, the newly established chairman of the London Bid, Barbara Cassani, and the chairman of the British Olympic Association, Craig Reedie. "Since 1972 and the Munich Games we've known that the Games could become a target for terrorist groups. And we didn't have to wait until 9-11 to know that security was of paramount importance."

London may well have something of a home advantage in this field, given that the man responsible for co-ordinating security measures at the last two Olympic gatherings, in Sydney and Salt Lake City, is an ex-Metropolitan Police officer, Peter Ryan, who still has links with the BOA.

How the London Bid will go about ensuring the Games take place in a secure fashion is something that will be more fully determined once Cassani, who takes over officially at the start of next month, has gathered a team around her. An advert was place in a Sunday newspaper seeking six key personnel, including a chief executive officer.

But there was plenty more for Cassani to digest at Millbank yesterday as she sat three places along from the Belgian IOC president, and perhaps the most pertinent item was Rogge's attitude to the supposedly time-honoured convention that the Games had to be switched around between continents.

Asked to comment on last week's selection of Vancouver as hosts of the 2010 Winter Olympics, which was generally interpreted as being bad news for the prospects of New York - as part of the same continent - getting the summer Games two years later, Rogge was emphatic.

"Continental rotation is a bit like the monster of Loch Ness," he said. "Everyone speaks about that and looks for that and no one's ever seen it. You've had the example of consecutive Games on the same continent - you have Athens in 2004 and Torino in 2006. You have had other cases in the past.

"We've had cases where I would say continental rotation obviously played a role, but I would like to say that the IOC is concerned first about the quality of the bid. And irrespective of the continent, if a bid is really the best one, it will be elected, there's no doubt about that. My advice is not to focus on this continental issue. It is not important. What is important is the fundamental quality of the bid."

Rogge said that, after his Downing Street tête-à-tête, he felt confident that the London bid would be strongly supported both by the Government and the city.

"The Prime Minister was interested in knowing what the IOC had on their list of priorities, and we went through them," he said. "He's extremely interested in supporting the best possible bid. I found a very strong determination there."

Pressed on whether he felt big names were important in backing up contending bids, Rogge responded: "My candid answer is no, absolutely not. We are not impressed by big names. You are alluding to David Beckham, and I'm saying very clearly that David Beckham is welcome to all IOC meetings, especially if he comes with his wife. But David Beckham will not add one single vote, for many reasons.

"We are not impressed by sports stars, we meet them every day. We have 40 per cent of the IOC who were Olympians.

"Again, the advice I would give to the bid cities is, stick to the fundamentals, go for substance and not appearance."

The IOC president also had time to update his view on the subject of Denise Lewis's decision to employ the expertise of the former head of East Germany's discredited track and field programme, Dr Ekkart Arbeit, in her preparations for the heptathlon at next month's World Championships. Rogge has gone on record as saying the relationship was "unwise" given Arbeit's previous role in a system that employed performance-enhancing drugs, although he conceded that there was no legal reason why the link should not persist.

"I think now we should move on," he said. "You know that I've expressed my feeling on that, and a major part of the press has been writing about that. Denise Lewis chose to continue with Mr Arbeit. That is her full right, living in a democratic country. I think it's about time now to let her train and compete. She has a short time to prepare for the World Championships. She should not be harassed about the issue we have been debating."

Rogge, formerly an Olympic sailor, also had a personal view on whether Cowes would be a more suitable venue for 2012, or the officially earmarked site at Weymouth, eventually inclining towards the latter venue.

* Rio de Janeiro was chosen ahead of São Paulo by the Brazilian Olympic Committee yesterday as the country's candidate city to host the 2012 Olympic Games.