- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2009

LAUSANNE, Switzerland | The four candidates for the 2016 Olympics - and the seven sports trying to be included in those games - face a crucial week in the final stages of their global campaigns.

Less than four months before the host city vote, Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo get a chance to put their case straight to the members of the International Olympic Committee.

Wednesday’s presentations and Thursday’s informal individual meetings with members marks the first time the IOC has arranged such a forum for bid cities. It’s essentially a trial run for the final presentations Oct. 2, the day of the vote in Copenhagen.

In a sign of the importance of this week’s gathering, IOC president Jacques Rogge said at least 94 of 107 members will be attending.

“For the members, it’s the opportunity to get a presentation without the frills,” Rogge said. “There will be no heads of states, no flashy videos, no presentation of fancy athletes. We can enter into more detailed questions.”

IOC delegates have been barred from visiting candidate cities since the Salt Lake City scandal, so this week’s program was arranged to give the bid teams direct contact with the members. The sessions set the stage for the final months of what shapes up as a tight race.

“I think it’s going to be a very close call, a little bit like Singapore,” Rogge said, referring to the 2005 vote in which London edged Paris in the final round.

But first up on Monday will be the seven sports federations competing for two spots on the 2016 program.

Golf, rugby sevens, softball, baseball, squash, roller sports and karate will make 45-minute presentations to the IOC executive board, followed by a question-and-answer session.

The 15-member board will meet in Berlin on Aug. 13-14 to choose two sports to submit for ratification by the full membership in Copenhagen.

Baseball and softball are seeking a return to the Olympics after being voted off the program for the 2012 London Games in 2005. The five others failed to get enough votes in 2005 for Olympic inclusion.

The IOC program commission has been evaluating the seven sports, attending their major events and assessing their strengths and weaknesses.

Golf and rugby sevens have received the highest reviews from the panel, a senior Olympic official with direct knowledge of the findings told the AP. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been completed or made public, said roller sports figured higher than baseball and softball.

Still, the decision in August will be up to the executive board, making Monday’s presentations crucial.

“It’s a very open race,” Rogge said. “There are supporters of all seven sports both inside and outside the [executive board]. I can say any of the seven would be good in the Olympic program.”

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