The race for IOC gold in pitch city

Leaving aside the size of the win, the five-way pitch to handle the 2012 Olympics, which has moved to London this week, shares many characteristics with the smaller-scale activity that takes place in ad agencies every day. The closer we move to pitch day, the more absurdly long the odds on any of the candidates actually winning (though one of them must, of course). Where certainty is lacking, speculation will fill the void. And, in a way, rightly so. For, ultimately, this is a battle about perception rather than the relative strength of national infrastructures.

On the face of it, London’s attempt to win the hearts and minds of the visiting International Olympic Committee Commission has got off to a pretty poor start, with two of the essential backers, London’s mayor and the media, involved in a vicious spat over the Rothermere family’s alleged Nazi leanings. Though easily dismissed as a minor PR gaffe, the row hardly sets the right mood and is an unhelpful reminder of one of the IOC’s more general reservations about the London bid: precisely the unpredictability of the British media. Mostly, the editorial tone of media owners is supportive but it seems IOC members are worried by the ‘corrosive’ scepticism of some columnists who have a nasty habit of dissenting (or, perhaps, just doing their job properly).

The other intractable problem is transport. It takes a great leap of the imagination to believe that the London Underground will be in any fit state to cope with the crowds, and only a slightly lesser one to think that, for instance, the South-east’s fast rail link will be up to full efficiency by 2012.

Never mind – winning a battle is often about the other side committing more mistakes than you do. And here, Lord Coe and his team have received a timely morale boost which may help to deflect attention from the deplorable state of our transport system. The front-runner (never a great place to be in a pitch) has received a nasty setback. It appears that completion of the swimming pool complex that would form an integral part of the Paris Olympics’ infrastructure is running badly behind schedule. The significance of this lies not in whether the Aquatic Centre will indeed be ready by 2012, but in the perception that Paris’ planning and infrastructure are not all they are cracked up to be.

The London bid team will have received a further fillip from a Guardian ICM poll conducted on the eve of the IOC’s visit. Full-blooded public support is considered vital to a successful outcome and hopes will be buoyed by the finding that 74 per cent of the population backs the bid (though admittedly 52 per cent thought London couldn’t win).

Another key consideration will be the support of advertisers. Pledges of sponsorship have so far been distinctly muted, but the bid team seems confident that this diffidence would evaporate were London to be selected. The argument is that the British have a well-attested track-record of travelling widely to view their favourite sports. Their appetite would be further whetted by the fact that there has been, or would have been, no comparable UK event worth attending since the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Some sources are convinced this virtuous circle would persuade sponsors to part with over $700m (&£370m).

But these are straws in the wind. Madrid has apparently made a strong showing and none of the other contenders can be dismissed at this stage. The one certainty about this pitch is that it will result in a definite win at a definite time: July 6.

Stuart Smith, Editor

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