Government commitment to sport crucial

Commission need to be convinced that the traumas of Athens will not be repeated.

Six months ago today the International Olympic Committee breathed a collective sigh of relief as the Olympics opened in Athens. It had been touch and go, and some doubted they would ever happen, but they turned out to be a stunning success. However, Greece is now left counting the cost of what the IOC president Jacques Rogge extolled as the "dream Games", not only in the massive overspend, which taxpayers are likely to be paying off for decades, but in grandiose yet economically unviable stadiums for which there is little apparent use.

Six months ago today the International Olympic Committee breathed a collective sigh of relief as the Olympics opened in Athens. It had been touch and go, and some doubted they would ever happen, but they turned out to be a stunning success. However, Greece is now left counting the cost of what the IOC president Jacques Rogge extolled as the "dream Games", not only in the massive overspend, which taxpayers are likely to be paying off for decades, but in grandiose yet economically unviable stadiums for which there is little apparent use.

The legacy of Athens will be much on the minds of the dozen members of the IOC Evaluation Commission and their advisers when they fly into London this week to assess the capital's prospects for hosting the Games of 2012. So will the situation in Turin, which has been described as "Athens on Ice" because it is way behind schedule a year before the next Winter Games are due to be held there.

The inspection team, led by the former barrier-breaking Moroccan athlete Nawal el Moutawakel, the first Muslim woman gold medallist, will need convincing that the traumas of Athens and now Turin will not be repeated. In their report they will want to reassure the IOC, whose 120 members cast their votes in Singapore on 6 July, that there will be no more Olympic angst, no heartstopping anxieties over construction or financing, and that the legacy will not be a stamping ground for white elephants.

Of course it will be the same for all five of the bidding cities but London are confident they have the most compelling case for delivering on a Games that will fulfil all the IOC's requirements and expectations. Not that they should be too smug. They cannot afford the faintest whiff of the arrogance which bedevilled England's World Cup bid of 2006, or make promises about which there is the slightest doubt they can keep. They can be sure the IOC team will sniff them out.

The commission will be given the message that London isn't Athens, where the afterglow of the Games has been chilled by the bill. The total cost of the Games now stands at more than £6bn, over double the original estimate. Public spending is having to be cut to control a budget deficit now in serious breach of EU rules. London will insist they have done their sums, and will host the proposed Regeneration Games in east London brilliantly and cost-effectively. When the commission arrive for the four-day visit members will see a city spruced up, its landmarks lit up with moving billboards declaring "Make Britain Proud" on road, rail and tube. But what the commission will be seeking is substance, not image.

They are calling the shots on where they want to go and who they wish to speak to, which is why, as well as for security and anti-demo purposes, their day-to-day itinerary remains tightly under wraps. We know they will be involved in 17 closed-door sessions involving various aspects of the bid, will have mainly working dinners in their Docklands hotel, use public transport as well as limousines, visit several proposed venues, meet the Prime Minister and his ministers at Downing Street and dine with the Queen and royal family at Buckingham Palace - their one social occasion permitted under new IOC anti-corruption rules. In addition to quizzing Tony Blair, they will also have the opportunity to discuss security with the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair.

But the questioning will be rigorous and the probing vigorous. And it will not be restricted to the bid plans, with which they may well be impressed. However, they may be less so about the Government's track record on grass- roots sport, the continued selling-off of playing fields and the lack of funding for sport compared to most other nations, about which they will have been briefed.

The evidence from Madrid, where they were last week, is that they will seek to satisfy themselves about the Prime Minister's overall philosophy towards sport and his Government's commitment to it. It won't be just chit-chat, cocktails and canapés at Downing Street but a real grilling for Blair. They will want to look objectively and deeply into what London has to offer.

Of course, the great and the good will be wheeled out by flesh-pressing and talk-ins. Friday night's Palace soirée will be awash with nobility: the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne, one of Britain's three IOC members, Prince William who, as first revealed in these pages, is set to be on parade in Singapore. Along the way they will meet the dames and knights of British sport, all rounded up by the good Lord Coe.

Dress rehearsals for the crucial visit have gone well and at least one member of those who acted as stand-ins for the IOC commissioners believes London will score heavily when the report is presented a month before the vote.

Ken Baxter, a member of the Australian board which bid successfully for Sydney 2000, says: "This is a highly professional bid and London are far more advanced than Sydney at a comparative stage. The proposed infrastructure and transport system seem far more capable of meeting the mark than some of the competitors'. I'd be prepared at the moment to put a significant bet on London winning."

How to impress the evaluators

Style: Days when IOC members were impressed with royalty and regalia are gone. London needs to display the the common touch, and understate rather than overstate.

Substance: There has to be hard evidence of solid support and financial guarantees from the Government, plus genuine public enthusiasm, total transparency and no spin.

Sincerity: They won't be taken in by Blair's blandishments. The politician most likely to win them over is the sports minister, Richard Caborn, who should be given a higher profile.

Stadiums: Paris's jewel is the Stade de France. London must show it can deliver new stadiums on time, without the angst of Athens, and make east London seem fashionable.

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