Madrid officials still hopeful

Updated: July 4, 2005, 10:40 AM ET
Associated Press

MADRID, Spain -- King Juan Carlos is said to be using all his influence. Former IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch is phoning friends for help.

Picking a Host
On July 6, five cities bidding to host the 2012 Olympic Games will make their final presentations to the International Olympic Committee. Here's a look at each host city:

Monday: London
Tuesday: Madrid
Wednesday: Moscow
Thursday: New York
Friday: Paris

Queen Sofia will lead the Madrid delegation in Singapore on July 6. Memphis Grizzlies forward Pau Gasol will lead an array of Spanish sports stars endorsing the city's 2012 Olympic bid.

The Spanish capital is doing everything it can in the final days of the five-city race, which also features Paris, London, New York and Moscow.

In a June 6 evaluation report, the International Olympic Committee praised the Madrid bid but was more complimentary of the bids for Paris and London.

"We have to keep our hopes up. We can't fall into feeling defeated just because of a word or two," Madrid bid chief Feliciano Mayoral said.

Still, Madrid officials believe they have a strong chance of winning the vote.

"A year ago they said we wouldn't make the cut and now we're in the top three," said Mayoral, though the IOC has not formally ranked the cities. "When the IOC members enter and study the candidacy they will see that it has all the virtues and fulfills all the requisites to guarantee the success of the games. And that is what they are most concerned about."

Madrid knows it lacks the enchanting lure of Paris and the confident stature of London, but claims it has some trump cards that could swing the vote.

For one, Madrid is the only major European capital that has never held the Olympics (London and Paris have both staged them twice). Madrid lost to Munich in a bid for the 1972 Olympics, but that was when the country was run by late dictator Gen. Francisco Franco. Spain and its capital have come a long way since then.

Bid officials believe the vote will go to a third round featuring Paris, London and Madrid, and Spain's newfound moderate stance in international politics could be decisive in the final result.

Madrid Facts

Population: 3 million in city center; 5.5 million in greater area.

Previous Olympics: None.

Major sporting events hosted: 50 world and European championships over past decade; 1982 soccer World Cup; 2004 European Swimming Championships; 2005 European Indoor Athletics Championships; 2005 World Taekwondo Championships.

Pros: Compact, low-cost project; economic and efficient metro system reaches more than 80 percent of venues; strong support of royal family; lobbying efforts by former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch; only major European capital that has never hosted the games.

Cons: Security worries after terrorist attacks on commuter trains last year and series of bombs set off by Basque group ETA near proposed Olympic venues; IOC concern over lack of hotel rooms; Spain hosted the games in 1992 in Barcelona.

Status: Dark horse.

Bookmaker Odds (William Hill): 20-1.

Others say the IOC may be reluctant to give the games to Spain so soon after the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. But officials in Spain note that Atlanta (1996) staged the games just 12 years after Los Angeles, and there would be a 20-year gap between Barcelona and Madrid.

Also, the bid raises security concerns: Nearly 200 people were killed last year in bombings of four commuter trains blamed on terrorists linked to al-Qaida, and Spain is still facing threats from the armed Basque group ETA.

Meanwhile, King Juan Carlos is held in high esteem worldwide, and Samaranch -- who served as IOC president for 21 years until 2001 -- is friends with many members on the committee, some of whom he appointed.

Joining Queen Sofia in Singapore will be Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Also on hand will be Real Madrid soccer star Raul Gonzalez, five-time Tour de France champion Miguel Indurain, former tennis star Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Gasol.

Politics and lobbying apart, Madrid maintains its strongest point is the closeness of the venues to the athletes' village and the low cost of its project.

Given the IOC's wish to reduce costs, Madrid's bid could seem desirable with an Olympic operating budget of $2.1 billion and separate infrastructure budget of $1.6 billion.

Twenty-two of the 35 planned venues already have been built, while two are being refurbished, five are under construction and six are awaiting a final go-ahead.

"We have 83 percent of the venues already built or in the pipeline and seven years to do the rest -- no other city comes near that," Mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardon said.

Madrid has hosted nearly 90 sports events in the past four years, including the European swimming championships and European indoor track championships. The city is also home to one of the world's most famous soccer clubs, Real Madrid, whose Santiago Bernabeu stadium downtown would be a 2012 venue.

In terms of popular and political support, the evaluation committee report recognized that Madrid's bid was backed by all Spanish parties and regions and by more than 80 percent of Spaniards.

Central to Madrid's bid is the plan for the main Olympic stadium and other venues to be a short walking distance from the athletes' village and about 10 minutes away from both the airport and downtown.

Madrid also boasts that spectators would be able to travel to 25 venues by public transportation. The city's cheap and modern underground metro would serve more than 80 percent of the sites.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press