Blair factor lifts London to dramatic victory


  • World
  • Wednesday, 06 Jul 2005

By Ossian Shine

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Tireless lobbying, a well-presented bid and a huge charm offensive from British Prime Minister Tony Blair lifted London to a remarkable Olympic victory over Paris on Wednesday in the race for the 2012 Games. 

Having flown to Singapore on Sunday, Blair spent hours, day and night, charming International Olympic Committee (IOC) members one-on-one before jetting out in the early hours of Wednesday to host this week's G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. 

British Prime Minister Tony Blair reacts to the news that London has won the right to host the 2012 Olympics, in Gleneagles, Scotland, July 6, 2005. (REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/PA/WPA Rota/Pool)

His efforts proved decisive as London overhauled the long-term favourites 54-50 in the final round of voting to become the first city to be awarded the richest prize in sport for a third time. 

Madrid, New York and Moscow had dropped out in the previous rounds. 

"It is a momentous day for London," Blair said from Gleneagles on hearing the news. "It is not often in this job that you get to punch the air and do a little jig and embrace the person standing next to you." 

"We are taking home the biggest prize in sport," bid leader Seb Coe told reporters in Singapore. "I always knew this was going to be close ... I am absolutely ecstatic." 

French President Jacques Chirac had arrived in Singapore on Tuesday to add muscle to the Paris bid but it proved to be too little too late. 

After landing in Scotland on Wednesday for the G8 summit, he said: "I am of course, like all French people, disappointed by this decision. 

"I congratulate England, London, the London authorities and I will have the opportunity soon to pass on my warm and personal congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen and Prime Minister Tony Blair." 

Britain's Queen Elizabeth, whose daughter Princess Anne is an IOC member, sent her "warmest congratulations" to Coe and his colleagues, saying: "It's a really outstanding achievement to beat such a highly competitive field." 

IN TEARS 

The Paris team were left in tears as their bid failed at the last hurdle -- a third rejection in 20 years. 

"It's hard ... It's a great disappointment, a great emptiness around us all," French sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour told reporters. 

The London-Paris rivalry had appeared to intensify in recent days because of comments attributed to Chirac criticising British food. 

French media had also widely reported suggestions that Britain was using underhand tactics in last-minute lobbying to win the Games, notably by openly sniping at the French plan. 

IOC members and the British bid team agreed Blair had made the difference. 

Irish IOC member Patrick Hickey said: "This is down to Tony Blair. If he hadn't come here I'd say that six to eight votes would have been lost and London would not be sitting here today (as) winners." 

Coe became London's bid chief a little over a year ago after American Barbara Cassani stepped down. 

The former twice Olympic 1,500 metres champion worked tirelessly to promote the candidacy. 

"Sebastian Coe was absolutely superb and his presentation to the IOC members on Wednesday was key, I am sure," German IOC member and vote scrutineer Thomas Bach said. 

COE MOBBED 

As IOC president Jacques Rogge read out the answer to the question the world had been asking, London's bid team burst into a chorus of cheers and mobbed Coe. 

It meant sadness for Paris and disappointment too for Madrid, who reached the third round of voting before being eliminated. 

"We almost reached the final ... We have worked together, above all with the support of citizens ... and we can be reasonably pleased, although obviously we would have liked to win," said Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. 

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: "We are disappointed that it isn't us but we have no regrets. 

"We played the game as hard as we could, we played it by the rules scrupulously and we have every reason to be proud of how we did it." 

Moscow bid chief Valery Shantsev said: "I was almost sure that we would have reached the second round at least. We need to analyse where we lost our votes." 

He added: "I felt disappointment but it was probably nothing compared to Paris. I wouldn't have liked to be in their place after they once again were denied the Olympics." 

In all the London euphoria, there was a sobering note from Athens which was beset with massive problems before delivering the 2004 Olympics. 

"Prepare early," said Greek finance minister George Alogoskoufis when asked during a luncheon with foreign correspondents if he had any advice for London. 

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