Bid cities fly in celebrities to woo Olympic voters

SINGAPORE: In the bad old days it was not entirely unknown for unscrupulous cities bidding to stage the Olympics to offer bribes or favours to secure votes. 

That oh-so-20th-century practice was finally stamped on. Now the up-to-date method of choice to influence Olympic votes is seduction by celebrity. 

The unprecedented flood of world political leaders and sporting icons pouring into Singapore for Wednesday's vote to choose the city to host the 2012 Summer Games attests to the new philosophy. 

The doors at the VIP lounge at Singapore's Changi airport have been revolving at whirlwind speed for days as the city-state becomes the stage for a congregation of celebrities to match the Oscars or the Cannes Film Festival. 

No past Olympic bidding campaign has seen anything to compare with a contest which will pit French president Jacques Chirac against British prime minister Tony Blair or American boxing giant Muhammad Ali against England soccer captain David Beckham. 

For the first time, five of the world's most prominent cities are contesting the vote – London, Madrid, Moscow, New York and Paris. 

London set the celebrity bar high early on when they put double Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Coe at the head of their bid team and then cranked it up a notch by naming Beckham as an “ambassador”. 

When they announced Blair would travel to Singapore to help present the bid at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) session, the celebrity gauntlet was well and truly thrown down. 

Paris found the perfect riposte by harnessing Blair's political arch-rival Chirac to their team. 

New York introduced a heavyweight in every sense with Ali and added Senator Hillary Clinton for good measure. Madrid crowned that with Queen Sofia and Moscow opted for Russian prime minister Mikhail Fradkov. 

All five have brought along delegations including a whole team coach's worth of their home-grown sporting heroes.  

Past Olympic sessions have seen nothing like it. One head of state (Chirac) and three prime ministers (Blair, Fradkov and Spain's Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero) will be present, not to mention three royals (Queen Sofia and IOC members Princess Anne of Britain and Prince Albert of Monaco). 

Beckham's Real Madrid team mate Raul will be on the Spanish delegation who also have former tennis champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and five-times Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain. 

New York boast Bob Beamon, the former long jump world record holder, and have borrowed a few overseas champions, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe and Chinese diver Gao Min. 

Moscow have tennis ace Yevgeny Kafelnikov and gymnasts Alexei Nemov and Larissa Latynina while Paris are using athlete Marie-Jose Perec and skiing triple Olympic gold medallist, Jean-Claude Killy, an IOC member. 

London do not rely entirely on Beckham, bringing another former Manchester United player Bobby Charlton and Olympic athletes Daley Thompson and Jonathan Edwards. 

New York and Paris have taken the whole thing a further showbiz stride forward by including celebrated film directors – Steven Spielberg and Luc Besson, respectively. 

Just wait for the sequel – Celebrity Olympics, The Movie. – Reuters 

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