Winter Olympics: Future without presents for Olympic bidders

The host city for the 2006 Winter Games is announced tomorrow after an attempt to repair its tainted selection process. By Mike Rowbottom
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The Independent Online
PITY THE Olympic bid PR man in the new, seen-to-be-clean era. "They've clamped down so much now, you can't even feel safe buying an International Olympic Committee member a drink," bemoaned an adviser to one of the six cities who will learn tomorrow if they have secured the 2006 Winter Games.

In the wake of the bribery scandal involving the last successful Winter Games bidder, Salt Lake City, following which six IOC members were sacked and four resigned, there is an overwhelming need for the Olympic movement to refurbish its tainted image.

The six bidders present in Seoul for the award decision - Sion (Switzerland), Klagenfurt (Austria), Turin (Italy), Helsinki (Finland), Proprad-Tatry (Slovakia) and Zakopane (Poland) - have been obliged to play by different rules to the ones which prevailed when the state of Utah set about its task.

While the long-term aims and structure of the movement are being considered by the newly created IOC 2000 Commission - which numbers many figures from outside the IOC itself, including Henry Kissinger and Sebastian Coe - the latest bidding has been conducted on the basis of interim rules.

The old system of inviting as many IOC members as possible over for a look around your front parlour has been replaced by a new scheme, in which bidding cities are visited only by a limited number of members who comprise an evaluation commission, which in turn passes information on to the main body of IOC members.

The voting has been simplified. After presentations by all six bidders in Seoul this morning, a jury of 15 members will be charged with the task of whittling the contenders down to two.

The jury will be made up of eight IOC members, representatives from National Olympic Committees and Winter Sports Federations, three athletes, the Japanese chairman of the Evaluation Commission, which has prepared a 288- page report, and - for reasons not entirely clear - Joao Havelange, the former president of Fifa, the world governing body of football.

They will be chaired by the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, who weathered calls to resign following the traumatic revelations at the beginning of this year. Once the finalists have been chosen, the full IOC membership will decide the winning bid by secret ballot.

Sion, close to the heart of the IOC movement at Lausanne, are favourites to win by dint of their technical facilities, their access to prestigious St Moritz for the bobsleigh and luge events, and, perhaps, a warm spot in the heart of Samaranch for a near neighbour.

But Klagenfurt's bid, based just inside the Austrian border but envisaging a Games linking up with the two bordering countries of Italy and Slovenia, has a freshness which might be telling. The women's downhill, for instance, would start in Slovenia, cut through a bit of Italy and end up in Austria. A new approach for a new era? Perhaps.

In the longer term, however, this award is significant not for where it goes, but how it goes. While Princess Anne will be otherwise engaged tomorrow at her brother's wedding, Britain's other IOC member, Craig Reedie, is likely to be a member of the 15-strong jury.

He is well aware of the significance of the occasion. "The selection process needs to be fair, transparent and done properly," said Reedie, who is also one of the 80 members on the 2000 Commission. "If you visit a bidding city, you only see what the city wants you to see. The IOC needs a much better bidding department with experts who will be able to give unbiased opinions on which bids will be good."

In terms of public image, the Olympic movement is steering its way through turbulent waters at the moment. But its appeal appears to be an enduring one. Ten more cities have already expressed interest in taking the plunge in pursuit of the Winter Olympics of 2010.

SHOWTIME FOR THE SNOWMEN: THE SIX CITIES BIDDING FOR THE 2006 WINTER GAMES

SION (SWITZERLAND)

Seen as favourite because of the technical quality of its facilities, and its proximity to St Moritz venue for bobsleigh and luge. The Swiss authorities have agreed to fund the expected deficit of pounds 36.4m, and the Games expect to break even.

TURIN (ITALY)

In with a chance, in spite of a sporting heritage linked more to football than with winter sports. Key points in favour of the Italians' bid are access to the fine slopes at Sestriere and, not least,the organisers' projected profit of pounds 22m.

KLAGENFURT (AUSTRIA)

An innovative bid, spreading events to include the neighbouring countries of Slovenia and Italy. "We are different, and we are definitely clean," says one of the Austrians' main supporters, Franz Klammer, the former Olympic downhill champion.

HELSINKI (FINLAND)

Events will be shared between the Finnish capital and Lahti, 75 minutes' drive away, with Alpine racing taking place on the slopes near Lillehammer, the venue where Norway hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics with great success.

ZAKOPANE (POLAND)

Two main venues are envisaged: Zakopane, and Krakow, a two-hour drive away. The Polish municipalities have already guaranteed to make up the projected deficit of pounds 30m, and in the long term the bid expects to make pounds 6m.

PROPRAD-TATRY (SLOVAKIA)

The "Compact Games", as organisers in Slovakia describe them, would not be straddled over national borders. Bidding for the second time, the Slovakians are keen to improve their national image in preparation for joining the European Union.

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