Political VIPs arrive in Singapore

SINGAPORE -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair came to lobby
for London. Spain's Queen Sofia flew in to make the case for
Madrid. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg arrived to stump for the
Big Apple. Dignitaries from Paris and Moscow campaigned
frenetically in the lobbies, hallways and bars.

With three days before the vote on the host city for the 2012
Olympics, the campaigning went into overdrive Sunday -- and the
five-ring show will only get more intense in the next two days and
final hours of the most prestigious race in Olympic bid history.

By all accounts, Paris remains the city to beat in Wednesday's
secret ballot of the International Olympic Committee. London is
regarded as the main challenger, with Madrid and New York as upset
hopefuls, and Moscow a long shot.

"There is no reason to believe that Paris is still not
perceived as the front-runner," senior Australian IOC member Kevan
Gosper said. "You have to put London next to them. ... My bottom
line is it's still between those two, and I think it's close.

"But in this organization, we're great at delivering surprises.
You never know."

Blair was the first head of government to arrive for the final
push, praising London's "very, very strong bid." He and his wife,
Cherie, are expected to meet with many IOC members before leaving
to host the G-8 summit starting Wednesday in Gleneagles, Scotland.

"I'm here, in a way, to say that it's a bid that's got the
enthusiastic support of the British people, of all the political
parties and the government," Blair said. "The country is right
behind it.

"It will be a great games for the athletes. It will leave a
legacy not just for sport in the UK but for the Olympic movement as
well, and that's important."

French President Jacques Chirac -- who has clashed with Blair
over European Union issues and the war in Iraq -- is due to arrive
Tuesday to boost the Paris bid. Chirac will take part in
Wednesday's final presentations to the IOC before leaving for

Queen Sofia arrived Sunday and will be joined by Spanish Prime
Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Also due in Singapore are
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton and a slew of sports stars, including Muhammad Ali, David
Beckham and Tony Parker.

The influx of politicians and celebrities has raised questions
about how far the boosters can go in selling the bids. While it's
OK for Blair or other leaders to take IOC members to dinner, IOC
ethics rules prohibit "overt" public promotional events,
spokeswoman Giselle Davies said.

"Let's not focus on celebrities, let's concentrate on what this
is about, and that's the bid file," she said.

Lobbying was in full swing Sunday throughout the Raffles
Convention Center and adjoining hotels used by IOC members, bid
officials and the media. IOC members began trickling in from around
the world. About 100 delegates will be voting Wednesday.

British Olympic Association president and IOC member Craig
Reedie said as many as 30 members may not yet have decided how they
will vote. Among the undecided members is Australia's Phil Coles,
who said Wednesday's final 45-minute presentations to the IOC could
be crucial.

"In the past, it was always the feeling that the final
presentation was hardly likely to win the bid but you could always
lose it on that," Coles said. "Here, I think because of the
closeness of it, the presentations might make a lot more

The IOC executive board began meeting Sunday, and is scheduled
to consider New York's revised Olympic stadium plans Monday.

Last month, after New York state officials rejected a proposed
$2 billion stadium on Manhattan's West Side, the bid team came up
with an alternative stadium plan in Queens for hosting the opening
and closing ceremonies, track and field events and soccer.

The new plan has been endorsed by the world governing bodies of
soccer and track and field, but still requires formal approval by
the IOC board. There have been no indications the proposals won't
be accepted.

Meanwhile, Paris and London continued to pursue campaigns of
sharply different styles. The French have been more cautious and
restrained, while the British have been more outspoken in talking
up their chances.

"I never considered we were the favorites," Paris Mayor
Bertrand Delanoe said, chatting with a small group of reporters in
his hotel suite. "I know our chances are real. But the others are
also strong. I prefer to focus on the performance rather than the

Asked what his message for the IOC was, Delanoe said: "Paris
needs the games. Paris is ready. Paris has `l'amour des jeux' [love
of the games]."

London, led by former two-time Olympic 1,500-meter champion
Sebastian Coe, held two large news conferences to promote its case
as the hard-charging finisher.

"Our bid has had sizzle for the last year," Coe said. "The
bid is commonly recognized as the bid with momentum. We are in very
good shape."

Coe stepped aside questions about reports that London and Madrid
discussed a deal to support each other if one is eliminated in the
round-by-round balloting.

"I don't know where any of the other bid cities are, and that's
not my concern," he said. "We are confident. By the time the
judgment is made, we will have done everything humanly possible to
put London in the best position."