Race for the Rings: What did Paris do wrong?

LOS ANGELES, Jul. 11, 2005 – In the aftermath of London’s upset of Paris in the race to host the Games of the XXX Olympiad in 2012, the hand-wringing in France and the sharp comments of observers point to the question: What did Paris do wrong?

The answer?


Paris didn’t lose as much as London won. And here’s how:

>> Paris’s bid was near-perfect and won near-unanimous praise from the Evaluation Commission. But London was close and the Evaluation Commission’s view of its bid left it only slightly behind the French. So there wasn’t much ground to make up on the technical end.

>> Both cities were competing to host the Games for the third time, and with a comfortable distance between their bids and the remaining three from Madrid, Moscow and New York according to the Evaluation Commission, the race became focused.

>> Members of the International Olympic Committee are world travelers in sport and for many of them, Paris was already familiar. The French hosted – with considerable distinction – the FIFA World Cup in soccer in 1998 and the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in 2003 in the same stadium that was proposed for 2012. London, on the other hand, hadn’t hosted a major international sporting competition since the 1966 FIFA World Cup, so it was due.

>> The British bid was led by a magical personality in Sebastian Coe, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in 1980 (800 m) and 1974 (1500 m). Although the London bid had been considered in a shambles in 2003, Coe’s leadership not only brought the bid together, but made him the face of the bid to the IOC, a group which revered him not only as a great athlete, but as a great sportsman. None of the other bids had an equivalent star who shined as brightly in front of the IOC at the very center of their bid, rather than as a member of the supporting cast.

>> Finally, the British showed that they – as a country – wanted the Games more. This was evident from their approach to the IOC Session in Singapore, as they were the first to arrive, nearly a week before the first meetings began. Moreover, the lobbying effort by Prime Minster Tony Blair for a full three days prior to the vote, in the midst of his hosting duties for the annual Summit of Industrialized Nations (the G-8), on a one-on-one basis with nearly three dozen IOC members was likely decisive.

Blair and French President Jacques Chirac, as leaders of G-8 nations, are major world leaders. In an IOC which is now made up primarily of sports figures and business personalities, rather than royalty and heads of government, such visits from leading governmental figures are impressive and important.

London won by just four votes out of 104 cast on the final ballot, so it was hardly a rout. And while Chirac’s dismissal of London because British food is the worst in Europe other than Finland was silly, it was probably not a factor. But shaking Blair’s hand and listening to his level of commitment on behalf of the government was undoubtedly memorable.

It’s a great lesson for bid cities. In the race to host the Olympic Winter Games in 2010, Vancouver was considered troubled, having been ranked (more or less) third in the Evaluation Commission’s technical analysis. But they persevered, lobbied enthusiastically and ended up winning on the second ballot over Pyeongchang, South Korea. Same for London.

Now the hard work begins. After the vote, the IOC and London are partners and after seven years together in 2012, the IOC will know if British food is good or bad. More importantly, they will know if they made the right choice.

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