- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2001

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Beijing is still the city to beat in the race for the 2008 Olympics.
In a report released yesterday on the five candidate cities, the IOC praised Beijings "excellent" bid and cited the opportunity to leave a "unique legacy" to China by taking the games to the worlds most populous country for the first time.
Paris and Toronto, which have been pushing hard to challenge Beijing in the final stretch, also received strong endorsements. But any hopes they had of overtaking the front-runner were dented when the report didnt rate them any higher than Beijing.
"Its still obvious that Beijing is the leader," Canadian IOC member Paul Henderson said.
Osaka, Japan, and Istanbul were virtually eliminated as Olympic hosts, leaving the contest as essentially a three-city race.
International Olympic Committee members will elect the 2008 host city by secret ballot in Moscow on July 13.
The 107-page evaluation report focused on technical matters and did not address Chinas human rights record or other political issues. It was released as about 50 Tibetan and other anti-China protesters demonstrated outside IOC headquarters against the Beijing bid.
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."
While the evaluation commission said it was "impossible to ignore" the human rights debate, it stressed that individual IOC members would have to reach their own conclusions on the issue.
Beijing lost to Sydney by two votes in the election for the 2000 Olympics. While the 2008 bid has been caught up in controversy over human rights and the spy plane dispute with the United States, supporters say awarding the games to Beijing will help speed reforms in China.
"It is the commissions 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 reference to a "unique legacy" stood out as the most significant passage in the report. The IOC likes to see the games as a powerful agent of positive change around the world.
"Today is a very good day indeed for the people of Beijing, for the people of China and for the Olympic movement," the Beijing bid committee said.
Said Chinas senior IOC member, He Zhenliang: "I am more confident than ever."
In a semantic twist, the report said Paris and Toronto "would" stage excellent games, while Beijing "could" do so. But the commission chairman, Hein Verbruggen, insisted there was nothing to read into the wording.
"No difference was intended," he said.
The cities were not ranked or given specific marks. The report went out of its way to keep the three main contenders on the same level.
"The commission has rated three bids as excellent," the report 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."
Toronto and Paris bid officials said they were happy with the findings.
"What we read here is exactly what we were expecting," Paris bid chief Claude Bebear said. "We are totally confident. We think our bid within the city will be a passionate challenge."
Toronto bid leader John Bitove claimed the report offered more positive comments and cited fewer deficiencies about Toronto than the other bidders.
"I think its going to be pretty easy reading for IOC members to see who is built and ready and who can do these games best for the athletes," he said.
The report concentrated on sports venues, infrastructure, transportation, hotel accommodations, finances, public support and other details. It carries added weight since IOC members were prohibited from visiting the bid cities in the wake of the Salt Lake City vote-buying scandal.
"The commission notes the process and pace of change 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 document cited problems of air pollution in Beijing but said strong government action and investment should resolve the issue and improve the city.
On Paris, the report said the use of existing venues "in the center of the one of the worlds 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.
The report praised Torontos compact sports concept, good transport links and sports legacy as "very attractive." It said the major challenge would be delivering the refurbished waterfront area, where most of the sports venues would be located.
The report cited potential traffic congestion in Osaka 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.


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