Inducements fiasco not 'terminal', says Coe

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The Independent Online

Sebastian Coe insisted yesterday that London's bid for the 2012 Olympic Games had not suffered "terminal" damage after he was forced to withdraw a £15m incentive package to athletes.

Sebastian Coe insisted yesterday that London's bid for the 2012 Olympic Games had not suffered "terminal" damage after he was forced to withdraw a £15m incentive package to athletes.

The leader of London's bid said that he believed he had broken none of the campaign rules, but had no option but to withdraw the offer after Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said that he feared such inducements would lead to a "bidding war".

Officials from London 2012 withdrew their offer on Saturday, less than a week after it was unveiled at an IOC meeting in Berlin, fearing that an investigation by the ethics commission would find against them. The commission had been due to report tomorrow but has now closed the matter and is expected only to offer gentle "clarification" on bidding rules.

But the episode has raised questions about the competency of the London 2012 leadership. Veteran IOC observers said it had been unwise of London to unveil the proposals in three separate "charters" without first taking soundings from senior IOC members. They also wondered whether another such mistake, with little more than two months to the final vote in Singapore, would lead Prime Minister Tony Blair to distance himself from the bid.

However, Lord Coe, who reached his decision on Saturday morning in a conference call with other leaders of London 2012, denied any lasting damage.

"I'm not running headlong into confrontation - that's not what this bid is about. This is not terminal," he said on BBC radio.

"Jacques Rogge made comments about not wanting this to become a bidding war, and we have withdrawn the offers we made. I am unaware of any rules we have broken at this point. The offer was put on the table with the best of intentions. I want to provide the very best experience for competitors coming to this country."

At the end of last week bid officials believed they had gained an advantage over their rivals, especially Paris, by arriving in Berlin with a package of offers to athletes, sports federations and National Olympic Committees.

Although they privately admitted these had not been checked with the IOC they were confident they had not breached rules which prevent bid cities adding to the Games blueprint submitted in January.

At a press conference last Monday, Rogge said that he was unaware of the offers, but 48 hours later he condemned the "unwise" actions of two bid cities, thought to be London and New York.

The London team may have squandered a chance to close the gap on Paris at the IOC meeting in Berlin - a dress rehearsal for the Singapore vote.

One IOC member said: "This is a major blunder by the London bid and it makes you wonder why they did not see these problems coming. They should have run it by some of the IOC members.

"Any more troubles like this and you will see very important people with a stake in the bid, such as the Prime Minister, begin to distance themselves from it."

Another member added: "What you will see now is Paris, Moscow and Madrid going as close as possible to the line of what is acceptable. This will open the door for London to bring back some of the incentives, especially to the National Olympic Committees.

"The biggest mistake London made was to offer free trips and discounts on restaurants and free phone calls that have little to do with the Games. But it did show that London tries the hardest and that may still count in their favour."