SINGAPORE: It is a national monument, the jewel in Singapore's crown, and this week Raffles Hotel will become a bubbling cauldron of lobbying and politics as the city state stages the most keenly-contested Olympic venue vote in the history of the Games.
Its Colonial-style salons and parlours will be overrun by bid officials and consultants, celebrities and spin-doctors as London, Madrid, Moscow, New York and Paris scrap for every last vote in the race to stage the 2012 Games.
What it all comes down to is a July 6 secret vote by the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) members.
Some 115 are expected to turn out to vote in what will be a complex affair, riddled with motives and interests.
Once the voting begins, one city will drop out in each round until a candidate polls an overall majority of members' votes.
Theory and conjecture will reign from the moment delegates arrive here this week until the final vote is cast.
The only thing which is certain is that the race for 2012 will be the most bitterly fought in Olympic history.
“I have never seen anything like this before,” one seasoned IOC insider said.
“All five candidates are major cities. It will be very difficult to swallow for all of the cities who fail. The stakes will be extremely high in Singapore.”
Paris are still considered the favourite by most Olympic commentators but London are widely accepted to be close behind.
Certainly London are oozing confidence.
“We go out to Singapore knowing that we have an excellent technical bid, that we have the UK behind us and that we are ready to deliver a great Games in the heart of this great city and country,” London's bid leader and former Olympic champion Sebastian Coe said when he arrived on Monday.
Paris are equally upbeat, so much so that French President Jacques Chirac will be in Singapore next Wednesday to promote his capital's bid – the first time a president of the Republic will head a French candidate Olympic city delegation.
New York's bid was thrown off course in recent weeks when the state blocked funding for an Olympic stadium on Manhattan's West Side but the NYC2012 committee last week unveiled revised plans for an 80,000-seat venue in Queens.
The bid is receiving heavyweight backing from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Madrid's hopes were dealt a late blow in the form of a car bomb attack last weekend close to a proposed Olympic stadium.
Most commentators agree Moscow is off the pace and in fifth place in the race but the Moscow team remain confident.
IOC president Jacques Rogge says the race is too close to call.
“We have five cities with very sophisticated projects and similar in quality,” he said recently. “We could stage excellent Games in any one of them, and that's a luxury.”
At April's meeting of the IOC's executive board, Rogge warned all five cities against sparking a bidding war.
IOC members, however, are braced for frantic last-minute lobbying in the days leading into the vote.
“What you will see now is the five cities doing all they can ... going as close as possible to the line of what is acceptable,” one IOC member said. – Reuters