In Paris, optimism was crushed with one word
Thursday 07 July 2005
Elation and boisterous confidence turned to crushing disappointment in the space of one word yesterday for the large crowd gathered before the Paris town hall. The word was "London".
There was a moment of shock and disbelief, as if 3,000 people had left the road and crashed into a wall at the same time. There was a low moan. Many held their heads in their hands.
The French television coverage, displayed on two giant screens, had encouraged the crowd to believe until the last moment that Paris had won. Beyond that, most people in Paris, and France as a whole, were convinced the French capital had made the best, and least speculative, bid.
Beyond that, many people thought - after rejections for the 1992 and 2008 Games - it must be France's turn. Beyond even that, there was a feeling France needed the Games much more than London.
A decision to award the Olympics to Paris could have reunited a nation divided by the "non" vote in the European referendum. It might have kick-started national confidence and a floundering economy.
"We did everything right," said Bastien Vibert, 26, a science student. "We had the stadiums and the infrastructure. We had the enthusiasm. I just don't understand it. The Olympic movement said it wanted a modest, relatively cheap games and it went for the most expensive bid."
Georges Kamany, 35, held his head in his hands. "Good luck to London. But many, many people in France who love sport, like me, will be crushed by this decision. What does Paris have to do?" he asked.
The Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, in Singapore for the vote, looked devastated. "I'll put all my energy into our recovery, so that we know how to make something big and positive out of this ordeal," he said.
After the initial shock came the speculation and the recrimination. A group of people on the Metro, discussing the decision, were convinced that Mayor Delonoe's homosexuality had swung the vote against Paris. "In the Third World, you know, they are very macho. That does not go down well," one man said.
Members of the Paris delegation pointed a finger of recrimination at London. IOC rules state that one candidate city is not supposed to denigrate another. Many Paris officials believe the London campaign did denigrate Paris and, at the very least, encouraged a campaign of denigration in the British press.
The former Olympic judo champion David Douillet, in Singapore with the Paris team, said: "We don't understand. This is not logical. Obviously the London tactics were the right ones. This is not the way we acted and we would never act that way. We respected the rules."
Another official of the Paris bid said it appeared "our greatest asset - the fact we had most of the facilities in place - became our handicap ... [the IOC] preferred a new stadium, which existed only in the imagination."
The decision is also a further blow to the prestige and popularity of President Jacques Chirac, who is already languishing in opinion polls with an approval rating of just 21 per cent.
New York tried to shrug off its loss, quietly abandoning a planned party in Rockefeller Centre and acknowledging the bid may have been sabotaged by squabbles over the main stadium. "We don't need reassurance from the International Olympic Committee or anyone else that New York is a world-class city," Representative Anthony Weiner, a candidate for mayor, said tartly.
Disappointment was shortlived among hundreds who gathered in Madrid´s Plaza Mayor to watch the verdict live on a giant screen. Many shrugged and offered congratulations to passing Britons. "London's was a good bid," one man said, his crumpled Spanish flag trailing on the cobblestones. Some were quietly relieved: "Let's hope the frenzy of building work will ease off now and we can all relax," said Luis Perez, 35.
While the world was reporting Moscow had gone out of the bidding in the first round, tens of thousands of supporters on Red Square were kept in ignorance by organisers, who continued to keep up hopes for more than an hour. The wait made the news harder to take. "I really thought we had a chance," said Alexei, a student trudging away.
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