Coe races to persuade the floating voters

Decision day looms and behind the scenes London's fate will be held in just a few influential hands
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The Independent Online

Ten days from now, London will know whether they have persuaded the International Olympic Committee to press the right buttons, and whether their own bid leaders have been pressing the right flesh. It is expected that 103 fingers will be poised over the computers in Singapore's Raffles Hotel to determine the destination of the 2012 Games, but how many of them will have been pointed in the right direction by the principal powerbrokers of the Olympic movement?

In the world's largest and most politically complex sports organisation there has always been a clutch of figures known as the "influencers", those who can enlist support for block voting for preferred candidates. Usually these are the heads of major sports governing bodies, but equally great wealth, status and political clout have been factors.

This may be less so since the reforms instituted by the new IOC president, Jacques Rogge, the Belgian surgeon who succeeded perhaps the greatest Olympic oligarch of all, Juan Antonio Samaranch. The former president, aided by his ambitious son, is still working the corridors of power with a nudge here and a wink there, and there are perhaps seven others to whom wavering members may look for guidance as to where their vote should go. As well as Rogge himself, of course. Although he vehemently denies any sympathies - and he doesn't vote - Rogge is believed to prefer Paris, but such is the disenchantment of some members, who think they are being led by the presidential nose over a number of issues, this could even count in London's favour.

What might not is that the majority of the "Great Eight" featured here are believed to favour Paris as their first or second choice - unless Sebastian Coe and his lieutenant, Keith Mills, have been able to convince them otherwise. And they have certainly been working on it, with cards expertly marked by the British IOC member Craig Reedie, using up the Air Miles Mills invented to meet and greet them and all other members among the 80 nations represented in the IOC.

While it is true that none of the so-called power players exercise as much influence as their predecessors of a decade ago, when the likes of Samaranch and the IAAF "godfather" Primo Nebiolo held sway, along with the former vice-president Un Yong Kim, now in a South Korean jail for embezzlement, their support could be critical.

Coe and Mills believe there is still time not only to persuade the "persuaders" but to garner vital floating votes right up to the decisive moment on the evening of Wednesday 6 July. "When I first started work on the bid about 18 months ago, I was told by experienced Olympic hands that it is only the last six months when things start to get serious, the last six weeks when members really start focusing on the bids, the last six days when they are receptive to hearing why they should vote for a particular city, and the last six hours when a good number of them actually make up their minds," Mills says. "I still think that there are about 25 per cent who are still undecided. These are the people we need to get on our side." The London team leave on Monday after a final round of international glad-handing at the Mediterranean Games in Almeira, Spain. They will secrete themselves initially on the tiny island resort of Sentosa, a cable-car ride away from the Singapore mainland, to work out their final Games plan.

"I always hoped that London would be in the position we are in now, ideally placed to spring for victory," says Mills. "As a competitive yachtsman I have never entered a race unless I think we can win it. When we started we had a long way to go but I always thought we had the ingredients to win, although we had a hell of a lot of work to do. I have to say I am now feeling really, really optimistic that we can now pull this off. Had I said that a year ago you probably wouldn't have believed me."

Some on the London team think that certain recent events have been unexpectedly helpful - the stadium problems in New York and the European Union débâcle, which has created internal problems in France and given the many French politicians associated with the Paris bid, in particular Jacques Chirac, other things to worry about. The feeling is they may have taken their eye off the ball - although this is far from evident from any conversations with their own bid leader, Philippe Baudillon.

He says he does not consider that the EU situation will affect the bidding process in any way. "Europe is far away from Olympism. To suggest otherwise is crazy," he says.

Baudillon, too, has being doing his share of canvassing the high and mighty, though, as befits an ex-diplomat, perhaps less obtrusively. Since the Evaluation Commission report, which seemed to be loaded in their favour, Paris have become ever firmer favourites to win.

Does this make them feel nervous? "We've never been nervous because we have always considered this will be a close competition," Baudillon says. "Everyone seems to have an opinion as to who thinks what in the IOC, but personally I think it is impossible to know that. Our philosophy has always been to remain the same, not to make a mistake, be very professional and convincing, and to demonstrate how in love we are with with the Games. The strength of our bid is our consistency. We will be exactly as we were in the beginning. We won't glitter. We will simply show we are the right choice."

"But it is is very difficult to say how the vote will go," Baudillon adds. "Much depends on which of the five go out first. This is a major question and could affect the outcome."

So could the amount of homework on the "other G8" put in by the rival cities. London have certainly done theirs - but will it be enough to see them at the top of the class? Or are they in for a French lesson in tactical voting?