- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2005

PARIS — London’s victory over Paris in the race to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games was a blow for French President Jacques Chirac that was all the more painful because he lost out again to his rival, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

London was awarded the 2012 Olympics yesterday after the most bitterly fought bid battle in Olympic history.

The London team overtook longtime favorite Paris as well as Madrid, Moscow and New York to win the race to stage the lucrative sports extravaganza.

Mr. Chirac needed a victory to lift his political fortunes after a French rejection of the European constitution that left his position damaged and a furor over comments attributed to him criticizing British food.

Mr. Blair not only emerged as the winner in what was billed as another showdown with Mr. Chirac, after a row at the European Union’s summit last month, but he also did so with the flair normally attributed to the French.

“Tony Blair acted brilliantly,” said Pierre Durand, the French gold medalist in the equestrian competition in 1988. “He has a dynamism which makes him win all his bets, win all the gambles he takes and win all the challenges he sets himself.”

“They have the luck to have a prime minister who is young, emblematic, charismatic, deliberately looking to the future and at odds with ‘Old Europe.’ You can feel it on every level.”

Such comments are likely to be galling to Mr. Chirac, who failed in his gamble of going to Singapore at the last minute to lobby members of the International Olympic Committee.

It is unfortunate for Mr. Chirac that his flight from Singapore took him only as far as Scotland, where the 52-year-old Mr. Blair will be his host at an eight-nation summit — and the cooking will be British.

The newspaper Liberation said Mr. Chirac cracked jokes to Russian and German leaders about bad British food on Sunday.

“You can’t trust people who cook as badly as that,” it cited him as saying.

Mr. Chirac, 72, had hoped that securing the Olympics would have lifted the sagging confidence of French voters and given a boost to the sluggish economy by creating jobs and generating revenues for tourism, construction and the service sector in general.

His popularity has dropped since French voters rejected the EU constitution on May 29, partly out of discontent with his policies, and he suffered a new blow late last month when a row with Mr. Blair meant the European Union did not agree on a long-term budget.

Mr. Chirac labeled Mr. Blair’s stance “pathetic” at the EU summit after the prime minister said he would make concessions on Britain’s budget rebate from the European Union only if the bloc agreed to a wider review of spending, including the hefty subsidies French farmers receive.

The two men also took opposing positions over the U.S.-led Iraq war, in which Mr. Blair was President Bush’s staunchest ally, while Mr. Chirac led resistance to the invasion.

Mr. Chirac has little to encourage him on the economic front because growth is slow and the unemployment rate is at a five-year high of 10.2 percent. Opinion polls show many French center-right voters also would prefer Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to be the conservatives’ presidential candidate in 2007.

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