Bid could not have been bettered - but will it be a match for Paris?

Evaluation team give little away as Livingstone spat spices up tale of five cities

It wasn't quite like being up before Judge John Deed, but sitting in front of the IOC Evaluation Commission can be an intimidating experience, as I discovered yesterday morning. At the invitation of the London 2012 bid leader Lord Sebastian Coe I sat on a panel giving evidence to, and being grilled by, the visiting Olympic jury in their penultimate session before their departure to New York this afternoon for the next leg of their trial of five cities.

It wasn't quite like being up before Judge John Deed, but sitting in front of the IOC Evaluation Commission can be an intimidating experience, as I discovered yesterday morning. At the invitation of the London 2012 bid leader Lord Sebastian Coe I sat on a panel giving evidence to, and being grilled by, the visiting Olympic jury in their penultimate session before their departure to New York this afternoon for the next leg of their trial of five cities.

The only newspaperman present at any of the 17 sessions conducted by the commission in the conference room of their five-star in London's Docklands, I am not allowed, under the Olympic version of Chatham House Rules, to disclose details of what transpired. But I can report that the questions, notably those addressed to the BBC's Head of Sport Peter Salmon, indicated that the 10 members present - three others had gone off on another mission - had done their homework thoroughly.

Headed by the Moroccan chairwoman Nawal El Moutawakel, a fellow gold medallist with Coe in 1984, with the IOC's technical director Gilbert Felli at her side, they sat before us at a large semi-circular table. Their interest clearly was mainly in the practical arrangements and comfort of the vast army of international media should London be awarded the Games, but we were also quizzed about the "cynicism" of the British media and how it might affect the Games (though Ken Livingstone's name did not crop up).

At least the Australian member Simon Balderstone, himself a former journo, grinned when it was pointed out to him that the cynicism of the Aussie media before Sydney far outweighed anything experienced here so far - and Sydney went on to host the greatest of Games.

The atmosphere was cordial enough, but fraternising with commission members was frowned upon, although I did manage to grab a quick word with an old friend, South Africa's former anti-apartheid campaigner Sam Ramsamy, and Nawal herself, who I have interviewed. Their responses were warm but they gave little more than pleasantries and platitudes. Nor will they until their report is made public before the vote in Singapore on 6 July.

From their probing it was apparent that their concern is not issues of controversy or morality, like Livingstone's abberation, but bricks and mortar. They are determined to sort the promises from the practicalities.

While Livingstone's dogfight with a London newspaper and his refusal to apologise over his "Nazi" jibe to a Jewish reporter may not bother them one iota, it struck a distracting and discordant note among the 70-strong international media who have been covering the visit. All had seemed to be going swimmingly for London until Livingstone went off at the deep end; now there remains the possibility that London's hopes on judgement day in July will be harmed if his promised statement on Tuesday does not satisfy the Standards Board, who could recommend his suspension for up to a year, which would mean his absence from the platform in Singapore.

The mayor, as titular head of the city, is the fulcrum of the Olympic bidding process, and one can imagine the loss of face in a country where they place great store on such things if London have to make their final presentation as the only candidate without their mayor in attendance. They undoubtedly would be taking an early bath in the Raffles pool.

Livingstone apart, these past few days have been a revelation to this seasoned observer of the Olympic scene and, I suspect, the bid inspectors too. London's plans are certainly far more advanced than originally envisaged and no doubt they were pleasantly surprised at what has already been accomplished. This was reflected in their final press conference last night, when one gleaned the impression that they had warmed to London's bid. Nawal repeatedly referred to "my good friend Sebastian Coe" and spoke of "a productive visit" and the passion here for sport. "We can feel it, see it, hear it."

Every stop has been pulled out, every celeb pressed into service and no name left undropped, and we are assured the Queen did not mention the P word as the sea bass was served up at Buck House, but instead expressed her full support for the bid and even broke protocol by waving the visitors off from the balcony.

Beforehand they had been given a boat trip on the Thames, with Tower Bridge raised for the first time since Churchill's funeral for a craft that did not not require it. Coe said: "Weeks of planning have gone into this - ours is not the management of 'It'll be All Right on the Night'." The London 2012 chief executive, Keith Mills, added: "London's has been called a virtual bid but the reality is that much more is actually happening than people realise. Getting a decent report won't necessarily make us the winner in Singapore. But this has been all about making sure we don't lose it here."

So, while the gap between London and Paris has certainly narrowed, don't let us get carried away. All the window dressing in the world - and there has been plenty - won't have impressed these evaluators more than hard facts. Once they have sifted through a plethora of stats and suppositions, and used a bit of imagination where blimps (mini hot air balloons) mark some of the proposed venues, they may well produce a report which puts London at the top of the class. But this does not mean the city will pass the ultimate examination. The political questions have still to be answered.

The probability is that many of the 101 voting members have already made up their minds whose button they are going to push. The jury is out, but London have come good at the right time and done themselves proud. It is just a pity that among the blimps hovers one blip. It is is now up to the mayor to remove it.

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