Thu, 10 Mar 2005


Olympic panel ready for a grand tour of Paris

Associated Press, Jerome Pugmire/Paris

With Olympic guests set to tour the grand landmarks of his city, Mayor Bertrand Delanoe was at his diplomatic best on Tuesday in trying to dispel the notion that Paris is the clear front-runner to hold the 2012 Summer Games.

"I don't think we're the favorite, just a good candidate like the other cities," he said. "We want to win, but we're not aggressive - just passionate."

IOC inspectors arrived in the French capital on Tuesday for a four-day visit. This is the fourth stop in a five-city tour that already has taken the 13-member evaluation commission to Madrid, London and New York. The panel's last stop will be in Moscow next week.

Panel chairwoman Nawal el Moutawakel was greeted by Delanoe and Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport.

The winning candidate will be decided by the full IOC in Singapore on July 6. Paris hosted the Olympics in 1900 and 1924 but lost bids for the 1992 and 2008 Summer Games. Delanoe said the city has learned from those two failed attempts.

Paris is now "less arrogant, less proud," the mayor said. "France needs to understand that in the 21st century everyone is equal. We are less self-satisfied than before."

"We will not fall into the trap of arrogance and excessive self-confidence," he added. "We are competitors like anyone else. We are determined."

The IOC panel Wednesday will meet with the bid committee, which is headed by Philippe Baudillon and backed at government level by Delanoe and Lamour.

On Thursday, the inspectors will visit many proposed venues, including the two Olympic clusters and the Batignolles Olympic village. Each cluster is 10 minutes from the Olympic village, as are 18 of the proposed 30 sites.

Thursday's tour coincides with strikes by French trade unions. The protest is not connected to the Olympic bid but threatens to disrupt buses, subways and trains and give IOC inspectors a close view of French labor unrest. The strike, however, is to take place in a part of the city where the IOC will not be visiting.

"France is a democratic country, maybe this is part of our charm," Delanoe said. "The strike is relatively significant because there will be less public transport."

"But all the unions, without exception, say they are behind us," he added.

The evaluators will be in the north and west parts of the city. The north cluster holds the Stade de France - the capital's main stadium which hosted soccer's World Cup in 1998 and the 2003 World Athletics Championship. Roland Garros, site of the French Open, is in the west as are Longchamp race course and the Parc des Princes soccer stadium.

The IOC panel also is expected to visit the Eiffel Tower, the landmark that would form the backdrop for Olympic beach volleyball.

On Friday, the commission members will lunch with Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, then attend a dinner at the Elysee Palace hosted by President Jacques Chirac.

The commission dined at the Royal palace of King Juan Carlos in Madrid and went to London's Buckingham Palace for a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II.

The final day of the Paris visit will be spent at other venues, such as the Bercy indoor arena.