BEIJING, Paris and Toronto rated as `excellent' bids for 2008

Tuesday, May 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ Beijing, Toronto and Paris won ringing endorsements Tuesday for their bids to stage the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Osaka, Japan, and Istanbul, Turkey, were virtually eliminated as potential hosts.

The finalist cities were not ranked or given specific marks and the report went out of its way to keep the three main contenders in the same frame. Still, Beijing has long been considered the front-runner.

The 2008 host city will be chosen by the IOC in Moscow on July 13.

``It is the commission's belief that a Beijing Games would leave a unique legacy to China and to sport and the commission is confident that Beijing would organize an excellent games,'' the report said.

The document focused on technical matters and did not address China's human rights record or other political issues.

``The commission notes the process and pace of change taking place in China and Beijing and the possible challenges caused by population and economic growth in the period leading up to 2008 but is confident that these challenges can be met,'' the report said

The report also cited ``environmental challenges'' in China but said government action and investment should resolve the issue and improve the city.

The report had high praise for all three cities.

``The commission has rated three bids as excellent,'' it said. ``In these three bids, it has identified only minor deficiencies which, in its view, would be resolved before 2008 by an efficient games organization.

``In dealing with the bids from Paris, Toronto and Beijing, the commission is clear that none of them presents any particular risk. The commission unanimously believes that these three cities are all able to organize an excellent Olympic Games in 2008.''

Paris and Toronto, working hard to overtake Beijing in the final stretch, could come away satisfied.

On Paris, the report said: ``The use of existing facilities mainly in the center of one of the world's most recognized cities presents the Olympic movement with an attractive option.''

The document cited possible problems in setting up the Olympic village in urban Paris, but said this could be resolved.

On Toronto, the report said: ``The compact sports concept based on a unique site adjacent to the city center with good transport links and a legacy to sport make the bid very attractive.''

It said the major challenge for Toronto was ensuring that the private sector and government succeed in delivering the refurbished waterfront area where most of the sports venues would be located. But the panel said it was confident this would be achieved.

Osaka and Istanbul, long considered longshots, were virtually ruled out of the race.

On Osaka, the report cited potential traffic congestion and concerns about finding the money for the large scale Olympic infrastructure projects.

On Istanbul, the report cited uncertainties about the financial projections for the games and the current economic crisis in Turkey.

The report, running around 100 pages, concentrated on sports venues, infrastructure, transportation, hotel accommodations, finances, public support and other details.

The document carries added weight since IOC members were prohibited from visiting the bid cities in the wake of the Salt Lake City vote-buying scandal.

Earlier Tuesday, about 50 Tibetan and other anti-China protesters gathered outside IOC headquarters to demonstrate against the Beijing bid.

The peaceful protesters held up signs saying, ``No Olympics for China Until Tibet is Free,'' ``Free All Political Prisoners,'' and ``In Beijing, the Olympic Flame? Man, What a Shame.''

A small Tibetan delegation was allowed inside the building to submit a petition to IOC officials.

The Beijing bid received a major boost last week when the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, said China ``deserves to be the Olympic host.''

Many IOC members believe it's time to take the Olympics to the world's most populous country. Beijing lost to Sydney by two votes in the election for the 2000 Olympics.

The Beijing bid has been caught up in criticism of China's human rights record and the spy plane dispute with the United States. But supporters say awarding the games to Beijing will help promote positive change in China.

The report was issued at the opening of a four-day IOC executive board meeting, where another crucial election will be in the spotlight: the race to succeed Juan Antonio Samaranch as IOC president.

All five presidential contenders are on hand: Belgium's Jacques Rogge, Kim Un-yong of South Korea, Dick Pound of Canada, Pal Schmitt of Hungary and Anita DeFrantz of the United States.

Rogge appears to be the favorite, with Kim and possibly Pound as his rivals. The election will take place in Moscow on July 16, with Samaranch stepping down after 21 years in charge.