Paris still favourite as strikes fail to derail bid

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The Independent Online

This City's determination not to lose its status as the safe pair of hands in the bid to stage the 2012 Olympics clearly runs deep. Just before the International Olympic Committee held its post-inspection conference in the French capital on Saturday, the officials scrapped a plan to hand out free "Paris 2012" watches to the media.

The watches, worth just €10 (£6.99) each, remain in boxes and Paris narrowly avoided any claims of currying favour with the press. As the inspectors flew out their hosts were breathing a sigh of relief. After a week of scrutiny, Paris, installed as favourite from the start of the 2012 Games bid, appears still to have it all to lose. Mass strikes and mud slung from across the Channel certainly made it a difficult week but no lasting damage appears to have been done.

Before departing, the evaluation commission, which has been unerringly polite about each of its hosts praised the Paris bid for political solidarity and a passion which reflects its official slogan, "L'Amour Des Jeux''.

The leader of the commission, the Moroccan Nawal El Moutawakel, even turned the workers' demonstrations which coincided with the inspectors' site tours on Thursday into a benefit for the bid committee. "This demonstration did not affect our visit at all," she said. "As far as we are concerned we will discuss it further but we appreciated the work between the labour movement and the bid committee.''

Paris appeared to have learned much from their shambolic bid for the 2008 Games. In place of disunity this time is a triumvirate of leaders from central government, the region and city who are doggedly "on message".

Still, the Paris bid leaders will be keen to learn over the next couple of weeks if there are more uncomfortable truths to emerge when the IOC publishes its evaluation report on 6 June. Like other bid cities they have a network of consultants tapping into the grapevine on the fringes of up-coming IOC meetings in Melbourne and Berlin. Under the spotlight of the past week some potential difficulties have emerged, including the suitability of the main stadium and road congestion.

El Moutawakel confirmed that the French were rightly proud of the Stade de France - built to host the World Cup in 1998 - which is the proposed main Olympic Stadium. But she acknowledged a report by the International Association of Athletics Federations, critical of transport arrangements at the 2003 World Athletics Championships at that stadium.

Unlike the London bid, the majority of venues in Paris already exist. To avoid white elephants they will rely on 13 temporary venues, which raises doubts over the sporting legacy the Games would deliver. The majority of venues in Paris are based in two loose clusters to the north and west of the city and will put strain on the connecting eight-lane orbital road.

The northern cluster, which includes Stade de France and the unbuilt Aquatic Centre, is more widely dispersed and will therefore be more difficult to make secure.

As favourites, Paris will inevitably come under fire from some of its rivals and the potential for this became clear last week. There was no better example than concerns over the use of police outriders to hasten the IOC on its venue tour. As a storm threatened to break over Paris, Gilbert Felli, the IOC's chief technocrat said there was no breach of rules and certainly no favours given.

Rivals will also seize on the appearance in court next month of the French IOC member and key bid figure Guy Drut, who faces charges of financial impropriety. But officials have dismissed this as unconnected to the campaign. "There is no connection between that and anything else that is happening,'' the mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, said. "The same applies to the strikes and the suggestion that it is in any way pivotal to the Games.''