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Toronto Olympics pass IOC technical standards with flying colours

Paris and Beijing also pass test; Olympic Committee VP endorse China Supporters of Toronto’s bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games received some good news and some bad news this week.

Paris and Beijing also pass test; Olympic Committee VP endorse China

Supporters of Toronto’s bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games received some good news and some bad news this week.

The good news is that Toronto scored high on the technical evaluation released by the International Olympic Committee on May 15.

The bad news is that Paris and Beijing also received high marks, and IOC vice president Kevan Gosper of Australia has already voiced his support for China’s bid: "I believe an important responsibility we have is to keep moving the Games around the world. Here we have a huge country which has never had the Games. This could be an event which encourages an even greater degree of openness."

The Toronto 2008 bid committee is still confident it can win, however, and was encouraged by the specific wording in the 100-page technical review. The report suggested that both Toronto and Paris "would" stage excellent Summer Games, and that Beijing "could" host excellent games. Evaluations of the Istanbul and Osaka bids were not as positive.

"This report clearly says that Toronto’s bid is excellent in many ways," said Ontario Premier Mike Harris, who was in Switzerland for the release of the report. "It confirms what we’ve know all along – Toronto has the ability to host an outstanding Olympics in 2008. And governments have created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in unlocking a prime piece of urban geography for the world’s peacetime event – the Olympic Games."

Toronto bid committee head John Bitove also took an optimistic view of the report. "When athletes of the world review the report, we believe that they will choose Toronto as the best environment in which to realize their Olympic dreams after all their years of hard work. All along our goal has been to make sure that Toronto has the strongest technical bid – and this report confirms that we do.

"We hope the decision in July will be based on the strengths of each bid, and on what each bid will bring to the Olympic movement and to sport."

The IOC evaluated each city’s bid based on a set of 18 criteria, including sports venues, infrastructure, transportation, hotel accommodations, finances, public support, environment, and other issues. Absent from the list were politics and human rights issues.

The report is considered important because IOC members will take a copy with them to Moscow to study prior to casting their ballots in Moscow on July 13.

No bid is perfect.

The Paris bid may be hampered by a seeming lack of public support – while their bid committee claimed 79 per cent support in Paris, an IOC poll found only 66 per cent support in Paris and 65 per cent in France. Air and water pollution within the city were listed as concerns, as was the high cost of living and the possibility that a number of events would have to take place well outside of the city limits. The proposed Olympic Village will also need work.

Toronto’s bid committee is also far from perfect, beginning with an overstatement of support for the Olympics in Toronto and Canada – the bid committee claimed 90 per cent support in Canada, while the IOC’s own polls found the support to be closer to 71 per cent in Toronto and 67 per cent in Canada. The IOC also had concerns about the budget and the financial backing of the games – while both the provincial and federal governments agreed to underwrite the costs if the money could not be raised, there are no guarantees of financial support from the corporate sector. Too many employees and volunteers are expected to put pressure on the budget, but the budget is considered achievable.

In favour of the bid are 70,000 names on the volunteer sheet, and a strong presence of athletes on the bid committee: "There is considerable support from the public and Government authorities and the involvement of Olympic athletes in all aspects of the bid was impressive." More than 85 per cent of the athletes and events will be located on the Toronto waterfront. The furthest venue is an exhibition soccer game in Ottawa. The bottom line is that "The environmental rehabilitation, revitalization and development plans for the Waterfront site have brought together an alliance of National, Provincial and City governments and will provide a significant legacy for the City."

The Beijing bid is bolstered by the fact that this is their second kick at the can – they lost the right to host the 2000 Games by just two votes. Beijing is large, overpopulated and polluted, but the bid officials have committed to spending more than US$12 billion on 20 different projects to remedy the situation. A number of sports, including sailing and soccer, will have to be held outside of the city, as far as 1,000 kilometres away. However, "There is significant public support for the prospect of organizing the Olympic Games and a feeling that a successful bid would bring recognition to the nation."

Technical reports aside, China may have to answer for its human rights record, specifically the arrest and detainment of citizens for their political and religious beliefs. They will also be on the hook for their widely condemned occupation of Tibet, their official position that Taiwain is a "renegade Chinese state," their recent detainment of a U.S. flight crew and spy plane, and the fact that a disproportionate number of Chinese high-performance athletes tested positive for banned performance enhancing substances at the most recent Summer Games – about 40 athletes didn’t even bother to make the trip.

IOC members may overlook these problems in the belief that having the eyes of the world on China may provoke positive changes. Beijing’s environmental plan is already being touted by the bid committee as "the greatest Olympic Games environmental legacy ever." Even the Dalai Lama, a Tibetan in exile in India, endorsed China as a good candidate for the Games.

In the time remaining before the July 13 vote, Toronto bid officials will pump up the positives in the report and hope to reach every IOC member before the meeting and final presentation in Moscow.