Paris confident that bid will win support

Updated: July 4, 2005, 10:48 AM ET
Associated Press

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?

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

"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 magical.''

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.''

London Facts

Population: 2.15 million; 9.64 million in greater Paris.

Previous Olympics: 1900 and 1924.

Major sporting events hosted: 1998 soccer World Cup, 2003 world track and field championships, French Open tennis championship.

Pros: Glamor factor; close proximity of venues to the Olympic village; smooth-running transport network; recent successes in hosting major events; existing Olympic stadium in Stade de France; world renowned tourist sites; top-level government backing; Paris is back for a third time after failed bids for 1992 and 2008 games; strong French historical links with the Olympics; France hasn't had summer games since 1924.

Cons: Threat of strikes; ecologists' opposition to extension of Roland Garros tennis complex; France's rejection of the proposed European Union constitution; danger of being the front-runner for so long.

Status: Favorite.

Bookmaker Odds (William Hill): 1-6.

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 Olympics.

"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 experience.''

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 breezy look.

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 nation.''

"You can rely on my absolute determination to support it, to promote it and, with all of you, to win it,'' he said.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press