London lagging in the tale of two cities

Coe's team are boxing clever but the feeling is that Paris have the inside track. Alan Hubbard reports

An accident with a kettle of hot water saw Seb Coe preparing for the final pit-stop of the 2012 Olympics campaign last week with his arm in a sling. He knows London's bid must avoid similar mishap as the race for sport's grandest prix reaches boiling point.

An accident with a kettle of hot water saw Seb Coe preparing for the final pit-stop of the 2012 Olympics campaign last week with his arm in a sling. He knows London's bid must avoid similar mishap as the race for sport's grandest prix reaches boiling point.

With his best mate Daley Thompson and local ex-world boxing champion Azumah Nelson giving a helping hand, Coe has been doing the final rounds of serious schmoozing in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, at the general assembly of the Association of National Olympics Committees of Africa (Anoca). Every one of the 53 delegates will have had hands shaken and ears bent - not only by Coe's team but by leaders of the other four bidding cities. All are aware that the decisive votes in Singapore on 6 July could well come out of Africa, which is why every presentation stressed what it could do for African sport.

However, by all accounts Africa did not do much for them, with every presentation save first-up Paris's hit by technical glitches. London did not even get the chance to show their much-lauded video and Coe's speech was curtailed. He remained typically unruffled, but knows it is likely to take more than his smooth brand of gentle persuasion to get African fingers pressing the right computer buttons.

In all, the continent has 19 voting IOC members, most representing nations with colonial ties or trade alliances with either Britain or France. But it is believed that Moscow have been calling in favours and dispensing a few more by encouraging several of their wealthy oligarchs, Roman Abramovich among them, to "assist" the development of sports federations in certain countries. Bungs? Nyet. Just a little financial help for those "who are such friends of Russian sport".

Of course, having had their knuckles rapped over their own now-abandoned "inducements", London will steer well clear of risking the wrath of Jacques Rogge, the president of the IOC, again.

Rogge, who has also been in Accra together with other big noises from the IOC, may say diplomatically that he believes the race is "too close to call", but other Olympics sources suggest this may not be quite the case. One experienced analyst close to the Olympic movement who has worked on a number of previous bids calculates that London currently trail Paris "by 12 to 15 votes".

In Athens last week I was assured that Paris has 56 Francophone votes in the bag. If this is so then they would win by a simple majority in the first round. However, even the most optimistic of those on the Paris bid team would not claim this. They certainly are not counting their poulets yet, believing that while they remain in front, perhaps by a decent margin, they fully expect the contest to go at least three rounds when, following the anticipated departure of New York and Moscow, the support of those who backed these two cities will become crucial.

Equally, tactical voting could see either Paris or London fall at the first hurdle, leaving the survivor to fight it out with an increasingly confident Madrid, such are the electoral nuances.

In fact, it is perhaps not a case of it being too close to call, but too difficult, because of the complexities of the voting system. For instance, you would think that London would be able to bank all 22 Commonwealth votes. But the Kenyans have already nodded in Paris's direction, and there are strong rumours that not all of the Australian votes will go to London. Conversely, London privately believe they may secure one of the two votes from French-speaking Senegal.

And you would have thought that no Muslim nation would back New York, now in business again after their chaotic stadium plans have undergone a Manhattan transfer. Yet Qatar have indicated they will support them. Could the income derived from Qatar being a base for the US Navy fleet be significant?

Of course, some IOC members will say one thing now and cast their votes differently. The road to Singapore will be littered with broken promises, because duplicity is the game the Games people play. Also, some members may want to vote for one city, but their government will lean on them to vote for another for political or economic reasons. We know of one Middle Eastern member whose own preference is for London yet who will vote for Paris because that is what his country's ruler wishes him to do - though who would know if he doesn't follow orders in a secret ballot?

It is now that the real political power- play begins, and it is clear that if it does culminate in an Anglo-French showdown, there is much more at stake than a mere Olympic Games. In sticky Singapore the temperature will be around 85 degrees, but the atmosphere between the two leading contenders will be refrigerated, especially if Blair and Chirac are both in attendance. It has been suggested that Chirac has not yet confirmed his presence because he is waiting for assurance that Paris will actually win. Paris 2012 sources say this is ridiculous. "Of course the president will be there." There is no doubt Britain's prime minister is desperately keen to get one over on Chirac for some very non-sporting reasons, and no doubt they will be grinning at each other yet again through gritted teeth in an Olympic entente far from cordiale.

Despite the apparent straw-poll disparity, Coe believes that ultimately the vote will swing London's way "because when the IOC members look us in the eye they know who they can trust". But can London trust the IOC?

But both they and Paris will know not to rely on anyone's word, because the auditorium at the Raffles Convention Centre where the 103 eligible delegates will cast their votes is likely to be the scene of some of the most lethal backstabbing since Brutus wielded the dagger. It all depends on who will be the victim.

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