The first TV debate in Olympic bid history might be coming soon. What a riveting concept! What a thrill! Five guys with cities to sell.
Imagine the folks trying to bring the 2012 Summer Games to New York, London, Paris, Madrid and Moscow going toe-to-toe, the not-so-mighty buck up against the pound, euro and ruble. Watch them peddle dreamy visions of stadiums and villages to be built with billions in public funds.
Unlike in the past, when all the hard-selling, soft-selling and buying of International Olympic Committee votes were done in secrecy, this part of the revamped process could be headed to your living room in late January. And you can't even vote. It's a concept concocted by BBC World and embraced by bidders because it's free publicity for them, even if it's all a bit hokey.
The ground rules laid down by IOC president Jacques Rogge ban bid leaders from attacking their rivals. That means, for example, Parisian officials can't zing New York's security again.
The IOC's 11-member evaluation commission, which is supposed to do its utmost to avoid graft or at least to avoid getting caught is visiting Madrid, London and New York in February, Paris and Moscow in March. The panel will give its recommendations to the 100-plus IOC members a month before they vote by secret ballot on July 6 at some swanky digs in Singapore.
As London 2012 spokesman Michael Lee said, ''It's good to have an open and friendly airing of this important debate.''
Of course, with billions on the line, a few barbs might slip in between the friendly banter. Let the mudslinging begin.
We can guess what New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg or deputy mayor and 2012 bid leader Dan Doctoroff might want to say:
''New York will have it all stadiums and arenas, an athletes' village with views of Manhattan, top-notch security, and the energy of the world's most vibrant city.
''In keeping with the spirit of this debate, I will not dwell on the snooty attitudes of the French or their pitiful performances at the Olympics. I will not mention that London's food tastes like cardboard compared with the variety of cuisines available in New York, everything from fine dining to hot dogs on the street and pizza by the slice. I will not bash Madrid's shortcomings in hotel space and transportation, or recall Moscow's pettiness in boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Games to get back at the United States for boycotting the 1980 Moscow Games. Times change and we are all Olympic brothers.''
If Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe participated, he might have this to offer:
''Oui, we, too, are determined not to debase this bid debate, so I will merely cite the beauty of Paris, where the Seine and the Eiffel Tower will offer backdrops for the games. There is no need to mention that our city is far cleaner than New York, where rats race around the subway and the piled-up garbage leaves a stench in summer. Nor shall I speak of how Madrid cannot afford these games, just as Barcelona could not afford them in 1992. Or how few people will travel to Moscow. And how no one can afford to stay in London.''
Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardon's plea could sound like this:
''We in Madrid are proud to present the plan for the safest games with far fewer worries about terrorism than our rivals. Certainly, we must acknowledge the train bombings by Muslim militants in Madrid last year, but that was an aberration. We gained invaluable experience from that in terms of security. We offer a peaceful respite in the center of lovely Spain, a city with not so much of the noise, chaos and smog of our friendly competitors.''
And next we might hear this from London Mayor Ken Livingstone:
''London will build the most futuristic of stadiums and the world's finest collection of sports facilities for the Olympics. We also shall incorporate the incomparable courts of Wimbledon and the new Wembley Stadium into our plan. With all due respect to the other cities represented here, we have a design that will work. Everyone knows that New York's stadium proposal will be tied up for years in litigation and that Madrid, Paris and Moscow simply have inferior schemes.''
And, finally, Moscow deputy mayor and bid leader Valery Shantsev could chime in:
''Much has changed in Moscow since 1980, when, it must be admitted, we were lucky the West stayed away. We will now have more than a dozen new sports facilities and ample, mid-range hotel rooms. Visitors can come to Moscow without feeling fleeced, the way they do in our rival cities. We honor the commitment to dignity in this bidding process, unlike some of our counterparts, and we stand ready to match or exceed any of their vague promises.''
Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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