Moscow is seen as a long shot

Updated: July 4, 2005, 10:41 AM ET
Associated Press

MOSCOW -- The Russian capital offers much of what Athens had eight years ago when it was bidding for the Olympics -- dirty air, infuriating traffic, an overtaxed international airport and a history of terrorist attacks.

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

But Moscow also has an inventive and compact plan for staging the 2012 Summer Games, a recent record of well-run major sports events and an energetic determination to reassert Russia's status as one of the world's major sports powers.

"It is a great opportunity to show the world how Russia has changed," said Dmitry Svatkovsky, deputy executive director of the Moscow 2012 bid committee. "We have a new world, new country. It's very important for us."

Moscow is seen as a long shot in the race against Paris, London, New York and Madrid. The International Olympic Committee will select the host city in Singapore on July 6.

Moscow's selection as one of the five finalists was a surprise to many -- even perhaps to some members of the IOC, whose evaluation report in May cited a "lack of detailed planning" in the Moscow bid file.

Moscow, however, has shown an enormous capacity for change over the past decade. The dismal, fun-challenged Moscow that hosted the boycott-damaged 1980 Olympics has given way to a city throbbing with new construction, partying at all hours and a growing reputation for fine dining.

The bid committee's slogan, "Imagine It Now," seems more than just hyperbole -- even though IOC members on an inspection visit in March had to use all their imagination to picture the Summer Olympics in a city covered with snow.

Moscow Facts

Population: 10 million.

Previous Olympics: 1980 Summer Games (boycotted by United States and others).

Major sporting events hosted: 2005 world figure skating championships; 2002 Greco-Roman wrestling world championships; 2002 swimming short-course world championships.

Pros: Compact plan with most venues in the city limits along or near the Moscow River; many venues still exist from 1980 games; Russia's tradition as Olympic power; use of games as spur for development and democracy in post-Soviet Russia.

Cons: Terrorist attacks connected to the war in Chechnya; doubts about Russia's commitment to the rule of law; laborious visa requirements; IOC concern over "lack of detailed planning.''

Status: Long shot.

Bookmaker Odds (William Hill): 50-1.

The inspection trip coincided with a spectacular assassination attempt on the head of Russia's electricity monopoly, underlining the key concern about Moscow: security. Politicians and businessmen have been killed by bombs and gunfire; the city has been hit by suicide bombings and the 2002 taking of hundreds of hostages by Chechen rebels at a theater. At the end of the IOC visit, delegates said security was their top issue.

Moscow's main strength is its "Olympic River" concept, in which most of the venues would be along or near the Moscow River, with an armada of water taxis to transport visitors. Not only would that reduce the need to use traffic-clogged roads and crowded subways, it also would offer visitors sweeping views of the Kremlin, Stalinist Gothic skyscrapers and gold-domed churches.

All competitions except equestrian and sailing would be held within the city limits. The bid committee says it's the most compact plan in modern Olympic history.

Two-thirds of the venues already are in use, including a pool for diving, water polo and synchronized swimming events, a cycling track, a rowing basin and the equestrian complex, all built for the 1980 Olympics. That's a strong suit amid growing concerns that the Olympics saddle host cities with costly facilities that get little use after the games.

Other concerns include whether Sheremetyevo airport, the city's main international gateway, can be modernized in time for the games. Projects to improve the airport, despised for its dinginess and hour-long lines at immigration control, often have been proposed -- but with no visible progress.

The bid also is hampered by Russia's notorious visa hassles, in which potential visitors have to fill out detailed travel plans, confirm hotel reservations and go through other bureaucratic red tape.

The federal and city governments have given financial guarantees for the games, but public support is hard to gauge. Although no significant opposition has surfaced, there's no sense of a popular groundswell -- a bid committee promotion to have supporters push a button in support of the games recorded about 1.4 million "yes" votes in the city of 10 million by early June. There was no button for registering opposition.

Some of the strongest support for the bid has come from noted Russian athletes and cultural figures who actually spend little time in Russia, including U.S.-based tennis star Maria Sharapova and boxer Kostya Tszyu, who lives in Australia.

"Moscow is becoming one of the truly great world capitals, having shed all the negative characteristics of the Soviet era," said another bid proponent, pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy -- who became an Icelandic citizen some 30 years ago.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press