All eyes on Singapore

IN 1896, prior to the first Olympic Games in Athens, the founder of the modern Olympic Movement, Pierre de Coubertin, defined Olympism as "the endeavour by the human race to achieve the maximum of which the human body and the spirit are capable, for the love of sport and fair play, and with no overtones of material gain."

IN 1896, prior to the first Olympic Games in Athens, the founder of the modern Olympic Movement, Pierre de Coubertin, defined Olympism as "the endeavour by the human race to achieve the maximum of which the human body and the spirit are capable, for the love of sport and fair play, and with no overtones of material gain."

The world is now on the threshold of selecting the venue of the Thirtieth Olympic Games in 2012 — which will be done on July 6 in Singapore during the 117th session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The two major front-runners, Paris and London, are going into the bid retrieving the memories of the founding fathers of the Movement — the Paris bid celebrates Coubertin and the country's contribution to the `Olympic Ideal' and as a riposte the London bid cleverly quotes from Coubertin, where he acknowledges being inspired by the educational legacy of the Thomas Arnold, headmaster of the famous Rugby Public School from 1828 to 1842 — to further their chances of staging the event, which has always been influenced by political and commercial realities of the modern age.

Sports lovers across the world can be forgiven if they have perceived the Games as a great burlesque of the tenets spelt out by Coubertin. Indeed, with every passing Olympics, commercialism, professionalism, drug use and permeation of political and cultural nationalism (not necessarily in that order) have rendered Olympism as a Platonic concept.

Ironically, Coubertin was the first to cast the Olympic Games at one remove from the idea of Olympism — Coubertin's motive of launching the modern edition of the Games as a competition between nations rather than individuals (which was the case with the ancient Hellenic Games) was to give France a bigger cultural and political place in the world order following the defeat in the Franco-German war.

Therefore, sports lovers would be better off reflecting on the Olympic Games from a standpoint that is driven by economic, cultural and political betterment of the world rather than as an `escape' from politics and economics into the rarified strata of `pure' sport, which has never existed. The best way is to actively monitor whether the IOC awards the Games to a city, which by virtue of staging the Games in 2012, makes itself and the world a better place to live in economically, environmentally and politically.

The recent recommendation of the IOC's executive board to dismiss IOC member from Bulgaria, Ivan Slakov, for breaking IOC ethics rules has to be welcomed in this context. Slakov had been caught by a sting operation of the BBC's Panorama programme stating that votes of IOC members could be bought. That the IOC is making an effort to root out corruption can also be seen from the change in the bidding process in 1999 following the Salt Lake City Bribery Scandal. No longer are bidding cities encouraged to entertain all IOC members, but they have to present their cases before an Evaluation Commission comprising representatives of National Olympic Commissions, International Sports Federations, IOC members and experts.

The 2012 Evaluation Commission, headed by Moroccan athlete Nawal el Moutawakel, published its report a month ago and it is on the basis of the report that the IOC members will vote in Singapore.

The Paris bid, which already has most of the infrastructure in place following the successful staging of the FIFA World Cup in 1998 and the World Athletics Championships in 2003, has received praise ("a bid of very high quality") undiluted by caution in the report. Paris, along with London has offered the package of an environmentally sustainable Olympics, urban regeneration, community development and multicultural values, which has been praised by the report. However, better existing infrastructure, accommodation facilities, public transport system and enthusiasm towards the bid have tilted the scales slightly in the favour of the French capital. At the voting stage, France's neutrality in America's 2003 invasion of Iraq could also mean that it could land the votes of IOC members of most countries with left-of-centre governments as well as the members from the Islamic world.

Though the report praised the technical bid of Madrid, it raised doubts about the city's preparedness in the wake of the Train Blasts of 2004 and the rampant racism during the last football season. New York's technical bid was also praised — after the publication of the report, the city's local body vetoed the plans to build the Olympic Stadium in Manhattan which is likely to affect it adversely in the voting as is the political ramification of staging the Games in the United States. The Moscow bid, which cleared the first stage of candidature, was the least favoured in the report owing to its lack of detail.

The ball, then, is in the court of the IOC. The organisation has to display rational skills, involving sophisticated cost-benefit analysis, as well as socio-political vision to select the venue for 2012. May the best city win.