James Lawton: This is not a bid, it's an Olympic lunge

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The Independent Online

Beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade is a gimmick, an engaging one perhaps, but the truth is, London's is an Olympic bid that gives opportunism a bad name. There is no foundation to it.

Paris, the hot favourite ahead of New York, has world-class form. The French government has invested seriously in sport. The football World Cup of 1998 was a triumph for organisation and style.

Paris already has half of the necessarily gleaming facilities - and a transport system that works with dream-like efficiency. Paris prepares - and delivers. London rolls the dice.

It shrugs off the difficulty of moving about the city, it insists it can cope. But how many Londoners support that belief? The fundamental complaint about the bid is, however, not logistical. It is surely about the way it springs so blithely from the absence of any real commitment to sport, and any clear understanding of its value to the morale and health of the nation.

The Government leaps from the humiliation of our withdrawal as hosts of the world track and field championships a few years ago, after pulling the plug on a calamitous attempt to build an adequate stadium at Picketts Lock in north London, and then says we will run the greatest sports show on earth. "I hope they give us the chance to do this," said the Prime Minister yesterday. But why?

One facility the London bid has listed is the Dome. Rivals such as Paris, New York and Madrid may care to remind the IOC of the story of this ultimate white elephant and ask a few pointed questions about the resolve and the "can-do" rating of the government responsible.

The call yesterday was for pride and patriotism, the embracing of a great crusade. But such rallying cries are hollow when you look at the record of this country's encouragement of sport at the grass roots level. School playing fields continue to be sold off so long after that crass initiative of a Thatcher government. Training facilities for the youth of Britain are pitifully sparse, vastly inferior to those of our neighbours France.

Yet now we wheel out the kids and talk about investing in their future. But how? By producing a tourist brochure which lists all that London has to offer. We have Horse Guards Parade for the beach volleyball, Wimbledon for tennis, Lord's for baseball and Hyde Park for cycling, and if on the back of this historic infrastructure, we are handed the great gift of the Olympics, we will start to build the sports facilities that have so long been denied our youth.

This is not a bid. It is a lunge, without weight or compelling logic, and the best hope is that when it fails, as it almost certainly will, a powerful lesson will be learnt. It is that before playing host to the world it is a good idea to put your house in order.

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