Race for Olympics 2012 sees Paris still out in front - but London is closing fast

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London's Olympic bid was given a boost yesterday when a technical report indicated that it was closing on the favourite, Paris, to stage the 2012 Games. The 133-page report by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) still appeared, however, to favour the French capital.

London's Olympic bid was given a boost yesterday when a technical report indicated that it was closing on the favourite, Paris, to stage the 2012 Games. The 133-page report by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) still appeared, however, to favour the French capital.

While not ranking the five rivals, it showed that Lord Coe's London team had improved on the bid's standing a year ago while those of New York and Moscow hang by a thread.

On public transport, the IOC, which previously described London's rail network as "often obsolete" said that the capital had a "comprehensive" road and rail system that would be upgraded with an investment of about £20bn by 2012.

The report said: "Provided this proposed programme of improvements is fully delivered on schedule ... London would be capable of coping with Games-time traffic." It also praised plans to situate the Olympic park in the Lower Lea valley, near Stratford, which it said would deliver a "strong legacy" for sport and the environment.

But, in carefully chosen words that will be read by the 116 IOC voters over the coming weeks, the report struck a note of caution for potential London voters. "The magnitude of the project would require careful planning to ensure all facilities and rehabilitation projects were completed on time."

Such words may strike a chord with IOC members who recall the Government's reneging on the ill-fated project to stage the athletics world championship at Pickett's Lock and continuing problems with the building of Wembley Stadium.

The report also confirmed that Londoners were more sceptical about the Games than citizens of other bid cities. The IOC poll, carried out in November, found 68 per cent back the bid in London. The figures are 59 in New York, 85 in Paris and 91 in Madrid.

London, the report noted, had staged "only" eight top-level competitions in Olympic sports in the past decade, fewer than its rivals. Concerns over opposition to the bid from businesses which would dig in for compensation seem to have been put to bed, with inspectors saying the Games could go ahead without delay.

Inspectors were also impressed with the decision to move venues for shooting and equestrian closer to the East End and praised the inclusion of existing world-class venues at Eton- Dorney (rowing) and tennis at Wimbledon, saying they were a "very strong" part of the bid.

The technical evaluation is intended to leave no stone unturned, and the inspectors even raised concerns about the location in the athletes' village of the disco. Bid officials explained while the IOC considered this led to "somewhat crowded" conditions, their intention was to keep the "party animals" away from sleeping quarters.

Lord Coe, head of London's bid, said: "This is the springboard for the next 30 days. A good evaluation report is not enough to get you across the line but we continue to enjoy the momentum of the past year and the past six months in particular."

He dismissed suggestions that, behind the IOC-speak, the report contained a message that London had too much to build in terms of sports venues. "Quite rightly, the report observed this is a large project and, quite rightly, it needs managing properly and we will not shrink from that." Even veteran interpreters of the IOC language were straining to see in the report any serious concern from a technocrat's point of view about the Paris blueprint, which has finessed its plans after bidding twice in the past 15 years.

The French capital's road and rail system was adjudged to be "one of the world's most comprehensive" and would benefit from a further $2.3bn (£1.5bn) so it could "comfortably cope" with Games traffic.

The London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, acknowledged that verdict reflected the French's more sustained investment in public transport. But Mr Livingstone promised projects in the pipeline would make London at least its rival by 2012.

IOC's verdict on top contenders

London

* Olympic Park would deliver a "strong legacy" in terms of sport and the environment.

* An Olympic Games centred on the Lower Lea valley near Stratford would be a "catalyst for regeneration and development". If London wins, building could proceed "without any undue delay".

* Ticket marketing and reasonable prices ensure full stadia.

* "Very good use" of existing venues (eg: Wimbledon).

* Five-star hotel for use by IOC members to cost $290 (£150) a night; $480 a night in Paris

* "Comprehensive" road and rail system.

Paris

* Public support at 85 per cent, the highest level after Madrid

* Huge experience in staging international sports events - 24 international events in Olympic sports in past decade.

* One of the "most comprehensive" road and rail systems in the world.

* "Paris has fully taken into account the Olympic Games Study Commission's recommendations in its use of existing infrastructure and the need for sustainable development. For this reason a high number of temporary venues (13) would be used."

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