| Prime Minister Tony Blair at a press meet in Gleneagles after London was chosen to host the 2012 Games
Singapore: Tireless lobbying, a superb bid led by Sebastiab Coe and a massive charm offensive from British Prime Minister Tony Blair lifted London to a remarkable Olympic victory over Paris in the race to win the 2012 Games on Wednesday.
Having flown into Singapore on Sunday, Blair spent hours, day and night, charming International Olympic Committee (IOC) members one-on-one before jetting out in the early hours of Wednesday to host this week’s G8 summit in Scotland.
His efforts proved decisive as London overhauled the long-term favourites 54-50 in the final round of voting to become the first city to be awarded the richest prize in sport for a third time (they previously hosted the Games in 1908 and 1948). It was the closest result since Sydney beat Beijing by two votes in Monaco to earn the right to stage the 2000 Summer Games.
The three other candidates in the opening rounds ' Moscow, New York and Madrid ' fell out one by one in a system in which the lowest ranked candidate is eliminated in each round.
The opening round was remarkably close. London led by 22 votes to 21 for Paris, 20 to Madrid and 19 to New York. Moscow, who picked up 15, went out even though it was just seven off the front-runner.
Madrid picked up most of the Moscow votes in the second round and led with 32 to 27 for London. Paris gained 25 and New York were eliminated with 16.
The votes for the US city then went largely to London who went back into the lead with 39. Paris were second with 33, leaving Madrid eliminated on 31. Paris closed the gap in the final showdown but London just about held off its rival.
“A momentous day for London' It is not often in this job that you get to punch the air and do a little jig and embrace the person standing next to you,” Blair said from Gleneagles.
“We are taking home the biggest prize in sport,” Coe, the twice Olympic champion, said in Singapore. “I always knew this was going to be close... I am absolutely ecstatic.”
French President Jacques Chirac had arrived in Singapore on Tuesday to add muscle to Paris’ bid but it proved to be too little too late.
The Paris team were left in tears as their bid failed at the last hurdle ' a third rejection in 20 years.
“It’s hard... It’s a great disappointment, a great emptiness around us all,” French sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour said in Singapore. “We gave the best we could, we spoke from our guts, with our heart... but it seems it didn’t convince the IOC.”
The London-Paris rivalry had appeared to intensify in recent days because of comments attributed to Chirac criticising British food.
French media had also widely reported suggestions that Britain was using underhand tactics in last-minute lobbying to win the Games, notably by openly sniping at the French plan.
Chirac thanked the French bid team for their “commitment, professionalism and the spirit of fairplay that had always guided it.”
IOC members and the British bid team agreed Blair had made the difference. Irish IOC member Patrick Hickey said: “This is down to Tony Blair. If he hadn’t come here I’d say that six to eight votes would have been lost and London would not be sitting here winners. The four votes that were in it in the final round were definitely down to him.
“Chirac came far too late.”
IOC members also paid tribute to Coe who stepped in to become London’s bid chief a little over a year ago after American Barbara Cassani stepped down.
Coe worked tirelessly and racked up tens of thousands of air miles to promote London’s candidacy.
“Sebastian Coe was absolutely superb and his presentation to the IOC members on Wednesday was key,” German IOC member and vote scrutineer Thomas Bach said. “There were many members who arrived here in Singapore undecided. They thought they would wait for the presentation and London were very impressive.”
As IOC president Jacques Rogge read out the answer to the question the world had been asking, London’s bid team burst into a chorus of cheers and mobbed Coe.