Wed, 09 Mar 2005


Paris greets IOC with enthusiasm, and strikes

Siegfried Mortkowitz, Deutsche Presse Agentur, Paris

When the International Olympic Committee begins its work in Paris on Wednesday it will see a city festooned with posters celebrating its bid for the 2012 Summer Games, a population solidly behind the bid and a presentation that has been polished and refined to the last detail.

And if they open their eyes or watch the news on their hotel TV sets on Thursday, the 13 members of the IOC commission will also see a city paralyzed by a general strike, its streets filled with chanting protesters and angry commuters walking to work.

The evaluation commission has already visited Madrid, London and New York, and is scheduled to travel to the fifth city vying to host the 2012 Olympics, Moscow, on March 14. The winner will be selected by the 117-member IOC on July 6 in Singapore.

Whether it was simply chance, ignorance or a touch of willful sabotage, the nationwide strike called by trade unions in nearly every sector comes at the worst possible time for the capital's Olympics bid, on the second day of the evaluation commission's decisive visit to Paris.

On that day, the commission is scheduled to visit the various venues for the competitions, and to inspect and use the city's public transport system -- which will not be running.

"The commission will simply take the metro and the (suburban commuter line) RER on another day," said the head of the Paris 2012 Committee, Philippe Baudillon.

Although all the principals concerned are trying to put the best possible spin on the strike, they also know that Marseille's bid to hold the 2007 America's Cup was probably scuppered by a strike of the city's trash collectors at the worst possible time.

For the moment, the strike looks like the only factor standing in the way of Paris hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics. Of the other four cities vying for the 2012 Games, only Madrid has the same level of popular support.

According to a private poll conducted for the IOC, 85 percent of Parisians support the bid, compared with 59 per cent of New Yorkers, 68 per cent for London's population, 77 per cent of the inhabitants of Moscow and 89 per cent for Madrid.

The city also offers a large number of existing sports venues and an Olympics site that is compact and efficient: 75 percent of the events will take place within 12 kilometers of the Olympic village, with the beach volleyball competition to be held at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

In addition, in an interview published Monday in the daily Le Parisien, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier noted that the French capital's security measures were second to none.

"We live in a dangerous world and no one is safe," he said. "France has suffered terrorist attacks in the past. Then there was Sept. 11 in New York and the attacks on Madrid. This justifies total rigor in matters of security for the organizer (of the Games). That is one of the strong points of Paris, guaranteeing a maximum effort under the responsibility of the state."

And in case the members of the commission still believe that all cities were created equal, their hotel rooms all give on the magnificent neo-Baroque facade of the Garnier Opera.

The budget foreseen by the French Olympic Committee for the 2012 Games totals US$8.8 billion (6.65 billion euros), and nothing has been left to chance to avoid another losing campaign, after the failure of Paris's bid to host the 2008 Games.

But, then, there's that pesky strike. The trade unions who called the job action have gone out of their way to proclaim their support of Paris's bid for the Games, and for very good reason.

A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group revealed that the benefits to Paris of hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics would total 41 billion euros and create 45,000 permanent jobs.

This is why the unions agreed to have their street protesters wear t-shirts and caps proclaiming the city's Olympic motto, "For the Love of the Games", and have rerouted their protest march in Paris to avoid running into the evaluation commission.

According to the Paris 2012 Committee's Baudillon, the general strike will actually show off the city's capacity to deal with difficulties.

"A candidate city does not conceal its problems; it must show how it resolves them," he said, no doubt crossing all his fingers.