London rolls out the banners for Olympic inspectors' visit

Inspectors from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) arrived in London last night to assess the capital's bid for the 2012 Games amid the trappings of a state visit.

Inspectors from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) arrived in London last night to assess the capital's bid for the 2012 Games amid the trappings of a state visit.

The 13-strong delegation flew into London on separate flights and were treated to a VIP welcome before being driven to their hotel in Canary Wharf to prepare for the inspection, which marks the most important week so far in London's bid.

Hundreds of "Back the Bid" banners were hung at airports and along the route used by the IOC members, and bid leaders unveiled plans for a £22m cycle centre in east London.

The Evaluation Commission, led by a former hurdles champion from Morocco, Nawal el-Moutawakel, will spend four days scrutinising London's plans as set out in the 600-page candidate file. Apart from an exhaustive series of presentations chaired by the bid leader, Sebastian Coe, they will also be taken on a tour of the venues, have lunch with the Prime Minister at Downing Street and be hosted by the Queen for dinner at Buckingham Palace. Their findings will be published a month before the final IOC vote is taken in Singapore on 6 July.

Lord Coe said yesterday that the race to stage the Games, also being contested by Moscow, New York, Madrid and the favourite, Paris, was "too close to call". He said: "I do not think anybody genuinely knows. This is a very, very tight competition ... The judgements that I value, particularly IOC members, say this is too close to call." The delegation will hear from Sir Steven Redgrave and the double gold medallist Kelly Holmes, one of the faces of multi-cultural British sport.

Ms Holmes has flown in from a training camp in South Africa and she said: "I think London should host the Games and I honestly believe we will. I've seen the plans in detail now, and they're absolutely great - the sporting facilities which are planned, the transport structures, the regeneration plans, the job creation schemes."

Polls published yesterday offered little clarification on the level of support for the London bid. A survey for GMTV showed that 59 per cent were against the bid while 41 per cent supported it, a significant drop in public backing in recent polls. An ICM poll for The Guardian showed 52 per cent of people did not believe London could win, versus 39 per cent who thought it would. Ladbrokes have cut London's odds to 3/1. Paris is the 1/4 favourite.

THE IOC INSPECTORS

Nawal El Moutawakel (chair), from Morocco. She won 400m hurdles gold in 1984. Dutch hockey player Els van Breda Vriesman, who is president of the International Hockey Federation. Sprinter Frank Fredericks, from Namibia, who won medals in the 1996 and 1992 Olympics. Mustapha Larfaoui, of Algeria, is president of international swimming. The other members are Simon Balderstone, from Australia, Philippe Bovy, from Switzerland, Bob Elphinston, from Australia, Patrick Jarvis, from Canada, Jose Luis Marco, from Argentina, Ser Miang Ng, from Singapore, Sam Ramsamy, from South Africa, and Games executive director Gilbert Felli.

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