PARIS -- As an American, Olympic champion Kerri Walsh
supports New York's bid to host the 2012 Games -- but she still
dreams of playing beach volleyball at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
Paris, the favorite in the race to host the games, wants to
imbue the Olympics with French flair and romance. How about a beach
lined with volleyball nets under the soaring beams of the city's
famous iron tower?
"That would be unbelievable,'' Walsh said. "Obviously I'm
partial to New York 2012 ... but if Paris does win, playing the
beach volleyball tournament under the Eiffel Tower would be
Paris' mix of famous landmarks, excellent infrastructure and
savoir faire in hosting major sporting events has given it the
perceived edge over rival bidders London, Madrid, New York and
Moscow. The International Olympic Committee selects the winner in
Singapore on July 6.
As a preview this month, the Champs-Elysees was transformed into
a sports playground featuring a running track close to the Arc de
Triomphe and a huge swimming pool. Organizers hoped 500,000 people
would show up; about 1 million did.
"The enthusiasm of the country ... we see it daily. The love of
the games is a reality,'' Paris 2012 bid leader Philippe Baudillon
told The Associated Press.
Host of the 1998 World Cup soccer final and the 2003 world track
& field championships, Paris has ready-built stadiums and
invaluable know-how when it comes to managing big sporting events.
"We have Stade de France, Bercy, Roland Garros,'' Baudillon
said. "Those who run them know how they function, how to manage
the flow of people, the media, security issues.''
When the IOC visited in March, evaluation commission leader
Nawal El Moutawakel highlighted the fact that Paris has the
80,000-seat Stade de France. Madrid and Moscow plan to refurbish
stadiums; London and New York would build new ones.
Still, after failed attempts for the 1992 and 2008 Olympics, an
air of caution hangs over the Paris bid.
Potential conflicts with strike-prone unions and environmental
groups, and France's rejection of the proposed European Union
constitution have not enhanced the city's image. Olympic officials
are warning the vote will be tight.
Paris last hosted the Olympics in 1924. London, which last held
them in 1948, is considered its top challenger.
"The level of competition is a dynamic element and a plus
point,'' Baudillon said. "Each city is really giving everything.''
An IOC evaluation report issued June 6 gave Paris a glowing
review. It noted the city had "fully taken into account'' the
IOC's recommendations for controlling the cost and size of the
"We want to work with the IOC on questions of the future,''
Baudillon said. "This is our third candidature. We took into
consideration the recommendations of the IOC and our own
The Paris budget for the games totals $5.3 billion, including
public investment and private funding.
Eighteen of the proposed 31 Olympic sites are within a 10-minute
drive from the planned Olympic village, giving Paris a compact and
The village -- $2.54 billion -- will be funded privately, as will
the proposed SuperDome and media center.
France is a leader in the fight against doping, a campaign led
by Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour, a two-time Olympic fencing
gold medalist -- another strong point in the proposal.
Security is another. Around 41,000 police officers, armed police
and soldiers would be mobilized.
Paris was a target of terrorism in the mid-1990s, with Algerian
Islamic insurgents setting off homemade bombs in subways, but
France says the experience gave it expertise in fighting terror.
Matters appeared more complicated for the Paris bid in March.
Strikes and street protests against government policies to roll
back France's 35-hour week crippled public transport -- raising
fears this could happen in 2012.
While Paris commuters crammed aboard the few trains left
running, IOC inspectors were ferried by bus and escorted by police
motorcycles to Stade de France -- where they lunched on lobster
mousse, fish and caramelized bananas.
Meanwhile, angry environmentalists protested against plans to
build the 15,000-seat SuperDome for judo and badminton in the Bois
de Boulogne park on Paris' western edge.
Some 2.3 acres of wooded area would be destroyed. After the
games, the dome would become an extension of the Roland Garros
tennis complex, home of the French Open.
Environmentalists now back the bid providing certain conditions
are met, and five unions affirmed their support last week.
"Paris can manage all the contradictions and difficulties to
make a coherent project,'' Baudillon said.
President Jacques Chirac is scheduled to arrive in Singapore a
day before the vote to lobby for the Paris bid, while British Prime
Minister Tony Blair will be there to campaign for London.
Chirac has called the Paris bid "the candidacy of the entire
"You can rely on my absolute determination to support it, to
promote it and, with all of you, to win it,'' he said.