IOC's timely boost for Coe and London

Olympic bid: Influential Evaluation Commission's report looks like making it neck and neck as finishing line looms
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The Independent Online

London can expect some heartening news around lunchtime tomorrow when the final report of the International Olympic Committee's Evaluation Commission arrives by courier from Lausanne. Its contents have remained a closely-guarded secret but there is little doubt from the nods and the winks that have come the way of the bid leader Sebastian Coe in the four months since the Olympic jury gave the capital the once-over that he has good reason to feel bullish as the bell clangs for the final lap.

Even chief rivals Paris are bracing themselves for London to emerge with flying colours. "There is little doubt that London will get a brilliant report," a source close to the Paris bid told the Independent on Sunday. "But we expect Paris to come out well, too."

Indeed, the indications are that the commission, led by Morocco's Nawal El Mouta-wakel, will find little to choose between the respective merits in what apparently is now an Olympic tale of two cities going neck and neck for the tape, with London getting top marks for technical merit and Paris for artistic impression.

This in itself is something of a triumph for London, left trailing abjectly behind both Paris and Madrid in the IOC's initial report 13 months ago. Since the immediate elevation of Lord Coe too succeed the floundering Barbara Cassani, most of the faults found in London's initial Games plan by the IOC have been rectified. Under Coe, the transformation has been astonishing and he now says: "All the issues of the previous report have been addressed. For instance, transport, which was perceived as one of our weaknesses, is now one of our greatest strengths. We have made bloody good progress."

Of course, even a rapturous report is no guarantee of success when it comes to the button pushing of the IOC members in Singapore's secret ballot on 6 July. Nor can it be assumed all will even read its 100 pages. As Coe says: "A good report is not enough to get you across the line on its own but a bad one would be a problem at this stage. But we believe we have brought together a first-class technical bid and have provided detailed answers to all the questions put to us. I have no direct intelligence about what the report will say but I am as confident as I can be without taking anything for granted."

Although the commission will not list the five bidding cities - London, Paris, Madrid, Moscow and New York - in any order of preference, the probability is that Paris will remain the front runners, even though there may be some surprise criticism of what they see as the pièce de résistance, the up-and-ready Stade de France, following problems with sight lines and transportation hitches during the world athletics championships two years ago.

But London also must be concerned that the worries about Wembley's finances and construction problems, which surfaced too late for the report, could now become an major issue in Singapore about London's ability to build an Olympic stadium on time.

Lack of Government and popular support, also cited by the IOC, clearly has been turned around, as was evident when the commission visited Downing Street and met leaders of all three main political parties.

If London's report does have a downside it could be that the IOC will express concern over the opposition of some 300 London businesses, who have withdrawn their backing because over what they consider unfair treatment in re-locating them in event of a victory next month. But last week, in a timely move, some 50 other businesses came out in support of the bid.

Once the report is formally published on the IOC website tomorrow, expect London's high-powered publicity machine to go into overdrive. What concerns some of us is that it could be accompanied by overkill, for in recent weeks there has been so much spinning that the bid seemed in danger of pirouetting off the roof of its 50th-floor eyrie in London's Docklands.

Much of this was to counter the pasting London took over the ill-conceived "incentives" offer which incurred the wrath of the IOC president Jacques Rogge. Similar mistimed tackles along the road to Singapore could mean a red card. Irrespective of the report, London still have it all to do, as evidenced last week by the internet poll of 38 nations, published on the Gamesbids.com website, which still has Paris as number one global choice as host city, followed by Madrid with London third.

London hope that an impressive technical report plus the presence of Tony Blair in Singapore ("Our absolute ace card," enthuses Tessa Jowell) will sway things their way. But Paris may have a trump in Jacques Chirac, who knows his way around the Olympic circles; and while the anti-European vote in France won't have helped Paris's cause, there is certainly no evidence to suggest it will harm it, either, or that Chirac's popularity with IOC members has been affected.

Also, London's tactic of turning the Singapore podium into a celebrity catwalk is not to the taste of some of the more experienced Olympic hands on their team. As an IOC insider pointed out, Singapore doesn't need a zoo; it already has one of the best in the world. While London insist that the inclusion of David Beckham and other sportsbiz glitterati is not a publicity stunt, the IOC electorate may not see it that way. Rogge certainly doesn't.

Yet London do not seem bothered about rubbing Rogge up the wrong way. Could it be they no longer see him as the influential figure that his predecessor Juan Antonio Samaranch was and are playing on what is perceived to be an antipathy towards him? If so, it is a dangerous ploy.

Paris say they will be "leaving the gimmicks to London". Theirs has been a low key campaign by comparison, though they have just begun to put their heads above the publicity parapet. After tomorrow, London will have them firmly in their sights.

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