Frayed tempers as a mayor's faux pas is blamed for the defeat of Toronto

By Patrick Cockburn
Sunday 20 April 2014 04:27

Tempers were fraying as the day wore on and the International Olympic Committee's decision loomed. "Have you brought shame on Toronto?" shouted a Canadian television reporter at the city's mayor Mel Lastman. Mr Lastman's ill-considered remarks on Africa may have damaged the chances of Toronto hosting the Olympics.

A wealthy businessman, he angered African delegates to the IOC when he said that he feared attending an Olympic meeting in Mombasa because "I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me." He has been apologising ever since.

Such was the anger of the Canadian IOC members at Mr Lastman's faux pas that they refused to allow him to sit on the platform as Toronto made its formal bid for the Olympics.

The atmosphere at the 112th general assembly of the IOC, inside the ugly grey concrete World Trade Centre in central Moscow, was a peculiar combination of sentimental appeals to the Olympic spirit and hardball politics.

Delegates ranging from former volleyball players to Princess Anne, listened to the last ditch presentations from Osaka, Paris, Toronto, Beijing and Istanbul.

Osaka screened a short film opening with a full moon, fire and Japanese drummers and featuring a 14-year-old violinist, Mi-Sa Yan, who played the "Olympic Hymn".

"In 2008, I will be 21 years old," she said. "If the games come to Osaka, it is my dream to play the Olympic anthem at the opening ceremony. Please bring the games to Osaka."

The 45-minute presentations are more important than they used to be since IOC members were banned from taking no-expenses-spared trips to candidate cities after the scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

The Chinese delegation repeatedly made the point that they represented one fifth of the world's population and had been disappointed before. The Canadians believed that if the Chinese bid faltered they were next in line and spared no effort in suggesting that there would be no unpleasant surprises if the games took place in Toronto. The French, who wheeled out Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Zinedine Zidane, the star of France's World Cup football team, simply said no city in the world was like Paris.

In Soviet times the conference venue was a notorious hang-out for racketeers and it was peculiar to see one of its restaurants commandeered for meetings of the IOC Ethics Committee.

Outside the conference hall demonstrators, mostly demanding freedom for Tibet, have periodically gathered and been dispersed or arrested by the Russian police. Earlier in the week even the smallest demonstration was guaranteed maximum publicity since the 1,400 journalists accredited to the IOC had little to do. To the embarrassment of the Moscow police at one moment they hustled several demonstrators into the back of a police van – and the driver then spent 10 minutes trying to start the engine, his efforts closely observed by a dozen television cameras.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments