London Olympic advisers in row over attack on Paris
Tuesday 05 July 2005
Claims that the Stade de France built for the 1998 football World Cup was better suited to hosting rugby than Olympic events and "struggled" to pay its way came as members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) arrived in Singapore for their annual general assembly.
The comments further stoked the tension ahead of tomorrow's vote, which many Olympic insiders say is still too close to call amid intensive lobbying, not least by Tony and Cherie Blair who spent much of yesterday in private meetings with swing voters.
Jim Sloman, the former chief operating officer of the Sydney Games, said at a London 2012 press conference that Paris had no advantage by having an existing stadium. "Sydney didn't and Atlanta didn't," he said. "[Stade de France] has been built for football and not for athletics and even though they had the World Athletics Championships there in the last couple of years they still have sight line [viewing] problems."
Rod Sheard, who has designed London's proposed stadium, said: "Paris is a wonderful stadium and I like going there to watch rugby. But unfortunately rugby is not an Olympic sport. The benefit of having seen the deficiencies of the Paris stadium and Sydney stadium means we can build a stadium for athletes which is financially viable. They can generate income and pay for themselves and I think Paris struggles with that one right now."
Leaders of the Paris bid responded by defending their venue but refused to be drawn into a debate. After reading translations of the comments, they decided not to raise the matter with the IOC's ethics commission, saying it was not for them to enforce the rules.
"As regards our attitude we continue to draw our inspiration from our performance and we will not be belittling others," said the Paris Mayor, Bertrand Delanoe. "It's a question of fair play. The IOC doesn't allow us to comment on other cities."
The London bid insisted that no rules had been broken as neither person was still on its payroll. Claims from London that the ethics commission had deemed the remarks innocuous were denied by the IOC, which said there had been no such contact.
The row's impact on IOC members is debatable as the majority were merely acclimatising yesterday and preparing themselves for a hectic couple of days in which they will be inundated with approaches from the five bidding cities.
Mr Blair was the first government leader to arrive in Singapore and led a lobbying team including his wife and ministers, who will hold private meetings with up to 60 of the 116 members. Mr Blair's Singapore diary also included a visit to a local school and his schedule, according to officials, was as busy as any two-day period of his premiership.
He is believed to have held talks with influential "kingmakers" from South America where London hopes to pick up votes in the likely event that the ballot goes beyond the first round.
Lobbying is expected to become frenzied today but if the pattern of this week continues, bid cities will be clutching promises without any clear idea of a winner unlike the last IOC vote in Moscow where it became clear at an early stage that Beijing would triumph.
Speculation that London has done a deal with Madrid to transfer votes if either city find itself going head-to-head with Paris was dismissed by Craig Reedie, head of the British Olympic Association.
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