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Public Service Striongly Advised Against 2012 Bid


Sir Rols
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Interesting reading in Insidethegames this morning. With advice like this, it's amazing it got off the ground at all. I guess it's the kind of thing most potential bidders from democratic countries get told by their advisers these days (and have kept the recent campaigners starting lists a bit shorter). I assume it was mostly Blair's doing that got the bid going in the end after all.

"A long haul for uncertain reward" - British Ministers were advised against bidding for 2012 Olympics by civil servants

Top civil servants advised British Ministers against launching a bid for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, insidethegames can reveal.

Restricted documents dating from October 2002 - seven months before the Government finally gave the green light to the ultimately successful London 2012 bid - repeatedly counsel Ministers in the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) not to bid, warning that the chances of success "may be less than 25 per cent".

The documents, seen by insidethegames, also suggest how any such decision might be handled, advocating a "core message" to the effect that there were "serious weaknesses in delivery in sport in this country" and this was "not the right time to embark on what is a risky project".

In the event, London not only won the toughest bidding battle in the history of the modern Games, but went on to stage an event which, while far outstripping original cost estimates, won universal praise for its upbeat atmosphere, fine facilities and technical proficiency.

The documents, marked "restricted policy", consist of a submission, entitled "Government support for a London bid for the 2012 Olympics", by the then head of the sport and recreation division and a covering letter from Sue Street, then permanent Secretary.

The submission, dated October 15 2002, begins with a short, two-sentence recommendation, moving on to consider six "key issues", before concluding with some paragraphs on handling.

The recommendation, in full, reads as follows: "Any decision to support a bid would have major resource implications across Government and great reputational risk, while a decision not to support is likely to create controversy.

"I therefore recommend that you write to the Prime Minister and to Cabinet Colleagues setting out the considerations discussed below and recommending to them that the Government should not support a bid for 2012."

The bulk of the second sentence is underlined.

On the likelihood of any bid succeeding, the submission argues that, while the Games "may well" come to Europe in 2012, "there is likely to be stiff competition from Rome, Berlin and especially Paris".

London, it says, "can produce a bid of good technical quality (though see below on transport), but the decision turns very much on Britain's standing in world sport. This is not good at present".

British sport, it goes on, "tends to use places on world governing bodies as a reward for long service.

"Our representatives tend not to be well regarded and do not have much influence.

"For different reasons, our IOC members have limited influence in that body.

"As noted above, an accurate assessment is difficult: the BOA is more optimistic, but overall the probability of a successful [sic] may be less than 25 per cent."

In fact, neither Berlin nor Rome bid, though eight other cities - Havana, Istanbul, Leipzig, Madrid, Moscow, New York, Paris and Rio de Janeiro - joined London on the starting-line.

Paris and Madrid turned out to be the UK capital's strongest rivals, with London deemed by most to be behind its French counterpart right up until the final presentations in Singapore in July 2005.

A lengthy section on sports policy considerations concludes likewise that "this is not the right time for British sport to be bidding", while reservations are also expressed regarding the complexity of London Government.

It would, the document states, "be considerably more difficult for London to get its act together in areas such as volunteer participation and civic pride issues in the way that Manchester [the 2002 Commonwealth Games host] did, or that London's European rivals might be able to".

Difficult to organise it may have been, but the job done by London 2012's army of volunteers, or Games-makers, was one of the unmitigated triumphs of the Games.

On regeneration, the submission warns that a bid would "lead to planning blight until 2005", while on transport - widely recognised from the outset as a prime concern - "any transport solution appears to entail a high degree of risk".

The submission's conclusion, endorsed specifically by the DCMS permanent Secretary in her covering letter, is that "the Olympics will be a long haul for uncertain reward.

"Overall the cost and risks attaching to the project point to a decision not to bid for an Olympics in 2012."

On handling, the document notes that "any decision will be controversial.

"Backing for a bid would be criticised as a waste of money by those less sympathetic to sport or the event itself.

"This could be handled but would be a continuing irritant.

"A decision not to support a bid presents a greater challenge.

"Criticism would be more coherent, orchestrated by the BOA and possibly the GLA, both of whom are adept at media handling.

"The Government would be criticised for lack of commitment to sport, lack of confidence in London/Britain and lack of ambition."

A core message acknowledging that there would be benefits from securing the Games, but arguing that the time is not right is suggested.

"We know there are serious weaknesses in delivery in sport in this country and we are acting in collaboration with the national governing bodies and investing to put it right.

"But this is not the time to embark on an Olympic bid.

"We need to get the fundamentals right.

"We are looking at the mega events strategy for the next 20 years."

While noting that she agrees "entirely" with her colleague's conclusion, Street also writes: "We will draft the letter you might send to the Prime Minister when we know your general reaction.

"I think it would be helpful for you to set out your recommendations clearly.

"But you could also create some space around it by pointing out that a different decision might be arrived at if there was a strong and collective Cabinet view in favour of bidding.

"This would require a clear business case for regeneration pressed by the DPM, the risks on transport to be substantially reduced and (of course) more money."

After repeated delays, Prime Minister Tony Blair's Government finally announced that it would back a London bid on 15 May 2003.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Insidethegames

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Jeez it's embarrassing noticing a typo in the thread title milliseconds after pressing the "post topic" button.


It seem some people just cant stand the idea of anything happening.

I don't think public servants or treasury officials the world over ever like the idea of Olympic bids.

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I don't think public servants or treasury officials the world over ever like the idea of Olympic bids.

I think it may be more subtle than that. I get the impression that the sport and recreation division was using the proposed bid as a lever for better support over a sustained period: "If we invest in sport now at national level, both in terms of finance and organisation, we may be fit for an Olympic bid in 20 years' time, when I'm due to retire and would quite like a GCMG".

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Interesting reading in Insidethegames this morning. With advice like this, it's amazing it got off the ground at all. I guess it's the kind of thing most potential bidders from democratic countries get told by their advisers these days (and have kept the recent campaigners starting lists a bit shorter). I assume it was mostly Blair's doing that got the bid going in the end after all.

Tony Blair, Ken Livingstone (the then Mayor of London) and Tessa Jowell (the then Minister for Sports) were the 3 prime movers behind the 2012 Olympic bid. Crafty old Ken wasn't really interested in sport (he's fond of newts though!) but he saw the Olympics as the only way he could get the government to agree to fund his city's regeneration. Jowell was always keen to press for a bid but had trouble at first to persuade her cabinet colleagues (small wonder when we hear what the top civil servants were busy advising them). Blair was unsure at first but was open to persuasion and Jowell and Livingstone proved very good at persuading him. He hesitated until the last possible moment and then decided to throw his weight behind a bid. Once he gave it his backing, the political support fell into place. Blair proved to be the best persuader of all as his performace at the presentations in Singapore was to prove!

The appointment of Sebastian Coe to head the bid after Barbara Cassani stepped down proved to be the 4th reason for the success of the bid as he quickly turned round the bid's flagging fortunes and made it into a real contender for the Games when everyone just assumed, at that point, that it had little chance against the popular favourite, Paris.

The rest, as they say, is history!

Edited by Mainad
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Good summary Mainad. I'd also add that, for all its faults, The Telegraph was pushing for a bid at the time when the rest of the media was either unconcerned or anti-Olympic. Lots of their sports coverage was dedicated to pushing the idea of a London bid. I don't know how much difference that made, if any, but they deserve some credit for that.

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Jeez it's embarrassing noticing a typo in the thread title milliseconds after pressing the "post topic" button.

I know the feeling.

I knew London would win as soon as I heard we were biding. ,

Paris was never in it for me.

The negative attitude in the above article is now being leveled at the new high speed 2 rail project,

It seem some people just can’t stand the idea of anything happening.

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