Computer-generated image of the proposed 80,000-seater Olympic Stadium in east London

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How London won
the 2012 Olympics

By Brian Baker

7 July 2005: London’s victory in the race to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games maintained a tradition of second favourite bidding cities securing the spoils of victory. Although most Parisians were stunned by their city’s narrow defeat on 6 July 2005, many observers of the International Olympic Committee’s Congress in Singapore were not.

The UK capital had been gaining respect in recent months and their enthusiasm was boosted by the very good technical report received from the IOC team in June.

There were just four votes separating London and Paris in the final round of voting. In earlier rounds, the other short-listed cities, Moscow, New York and Madrid had been eliminated in turn. The key to the London bid team’s victory was in how those votes were re-distributed.

Alone amongst the five finalists, London included a group of children in their final presentation team at the Raffles Hotel and Convention Centre. They were from a school in the East London area where most of the investment will go for the games where thee are pupils from over 20 nationalities. In their video material, they used the example of a young Japanese girl watching the 2012 games from London on TV and growing up to become an Olympic gymnast, emphasising the twin bulwarks of youth and internationalism.

By contrast, perhaps significantly, all those who spoke in the Paris presentation were male and middle aged and all the men and women in their team attending the session (each bidder is allowed to have 100 people in the room) were in suits.

London Bid Team Leader Lord Coe closed his presentation with a call, which may have appealed to Baron de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics. He said “on behalf of the youth of today, the athletes of tomorrow and the Olympians of the future, we humbly submit the bid of London 2012.”

Although French President Jacques Chirac was present to add weight to the Paris presentation along with multiple Olympic gold medallist Jean-Claude Killy, it was British Prime Minister Tony Blair who spent his time in Singapore meeting with as many IOC members as he could along with his wife Cherie Blair who has been one of the London bid team’s champions.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë was not impressed with the London tactics in the final 72 hours accusing his opponents of bending the rules by continue to lobby IOC members until only hours before the decisive session began.  

Mayor Delanoë said the Paris team, in contrast, had played by the rules and let the quality of their bid speak for itself. “I had understood that the best bid, the best state of mind was what it was all about,” he told TV viewers in France, confessing that he had no explanation for the outcome.

Media observers at the meeting reported seeing the Paris delegation talking amongst themselves in the hotel rather than meeting with IOC members or others at the session. The French team appeared to have interpreted the prohibition on gifts and inducements as a ban on all forms of persuasion. None of the other four contenders saw the new rules in that fashion.

All the finalists had heavyweight support in Singapore. New York, which finished 4th, brought in the legendary Mohammed Ali and also had Senator Hilary Clinton on their team. Madrid had Queen Sophia and Real Madrid footballer Raul. But London had David and Victoria Beckham and several Olympic gold medallists.

The New York Times quoted IOC heavyweight Dick Pound from Canada as saying it was the Blair factor. “If it hadn’t been for him we would have been conducting the result press conference in French.”He went further when talking with The Guardian “ You should get down on your hands and knees and thank your Prime Minister. He and Cherie are a particularly dynamic couple and have huge people skills.”

It is estimated that the five finalists spent in excess of 200 million euros on their campaigns. Now it is London, which has to spend much larger amounts keeping their pledges.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone is confident. He said after the announcement that it was a mountain to climb when we started out but in these last few days its been fantastic. “We spent a lot of time working at the finances before we started. We have a lot of the money in place,” he added.

UK Culture and Sport Secretary Tessa Jowell, now appointed Olympics Minister, similarly emphasised the careful assessment her Government had made over the potential for good and ill. “We paused for six months before backing the British Olympic Association in putting forward a London bid. In that time we spoke with bid team leaders from previous Games and addressed all the potential difficulties, which can arise. The London bid has been largely structured on the model of Sydney.”

“We can and will avoid the cost over-run which Athens experienced and the long-term debt which some other previous host cities have had to deal with,” she told the BBC’s Newsnight programme after the announcement.

Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardon said “We have had an extraordinary response to our bid. Madrid will be bidding for the Olympic Games of 2016 or 2020. We will analyse which is the best one to go for but we must continue with this project.”

2012 will be only 20 years after the Barcelona Olympics and it would have been remarkable if the Games had returned to Spain so soon. But for 2020 Madrid may be an even stronger contender. In the second round of voting they actually led with 31 votes but once the contest was entirely Western European their support melted away.

New York’s candidacy too suffered from an IOC perception that there have been a lot of summer games in the USA, most recently in Atlanta in 1996 when the dominant role of the private sector did not produce an event which impressed many in the IOC.

But the last minute crisis over the site for the main Olympic Stadium was the single key factor which undermined the city’s candidature. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was upbeat in defeat. “ The odds on us winning were not good,” he said. “This effort was a catalyst for getting a lot of things going.”

He said he had no regrets about making the bid and went out of his way to praise bid team leader Daniel L Doctoroff. Commentators emphasised the public indifference to the bid as another key factor.

The London games will centre on an Olympic complex around the run-down Stratford area in the east of the city where the boundaries of three poor boroughs, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney meet. There will be an Aquatic Centre with two 50 metre pools, an 80,000 seater main Olympic Stadium and the largest ever competitors village which will be converted to provide 3,600 apartments for key workers afterwards.

The tenders for the initial infrastructure works to equip the Lower Lea Valley area for the construction to come will be let within the next two months. Whilst this transformation of a very poor area is the core of the 2012 plan, London will be also be using some of its prime assets too which may well have influenced a few votes. Events will be held in Greenwich Park, the Wimbledon tennis courts and the re-vamped Wembley soccer stadium and the beach volleyball will be in Horse Guards Parade, a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.

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