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Sunday, March 5, 2000

ENTHUSIASM WANES IN OSAKA

IOC wining-dining ban puts Games bid in bind


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Enthusiasm for Osaka's 2008 Olympic bid continues to fade after the International Olympic Committee announced strict conditions on candidate cities.

To explain the new bidding procedures, the IOC hosted a meeting with candidates for the 2008 Games on Feb. 25 at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Ten cities, including heavily favored Beijing and Paris, as well as Osaka, hope to be host to the Olympics.

Because of the bribery scandals involving Salt Lake City, Nagano and Sydney, the IOC has toughened up the bidding process. IOC voting members will not be allowed to visit 2008 bid cities and candidates may not give them gifts.

Nor will candidates be allowed to hire publicity agents to lobby the IOC or promote themselves internationally until they receive IOC approval.

Selection for the 2008 host will take place in two stages. During the first stage, which begins this month, all 10 candidate cities will be sent questionnaires in order to assess their ability to host the Olympics.

Questions will focus on the candidate's motivation for pursuing the Games and what kind of political and public support the bid has. Technical questions will also be asked about their general and sports infrastructure and about their plans to finance the Games.

The questionnaires will be collected and analyzed over the next few months, before being presented to the IOC Executive Board on Aug. 28. The board will select the most suitable candidates, perhaps as few as five, by Aug. 31.

From there, a small group of nonvoting IOC members will conduct an inspection tour of the remaining candidates and submit their recommendations to the IOC congress.

After hearing presentations from the finalists, the IOC voting members will select the 2008 host in July 2001.

The announcement of the new bid requirements received mixed reactions from the various bid cities. While front-runners like Beijing and Paris announced their support, other cities, including Osaka, complained.

"It's a pretty tight schedule, as we have to translate the questionnaire into Japanese, and the answers into English and French," said Noboru Yamada, executive director of the city's Olympic bid bureau.

The toughest rule for Osaka to swallow, though, is the ban on visits by IOC voting members. Osaka's low international recognition level puts it at a competitive disadvantage and city officials, led by Mayor Takafumi Isomura, have long said it was one of the biggest hurdles to winning the bid.

"If IOC members can't visit the bid cities, then their recognition level will become a priority," Isomura said.

But that IOC rule had been announced a long time ago and was factored into Osaka's plans for this year. Just before IOC officials met with bid city candidates, Osaka revealed that its Olympic promotional activities had been reduced.

In the 2000 budget proposal, the city said it would allocate 1.28 billion yen to the Olympic bid committee.

In addition, Osaka said that from fiscal 1999 to July 2001, about 2.7 billion yen was expected to be spent on the bid, less than half of the originally estimated 4.5 billion yen.

The reasons for the reduction are directly related to the scandal. Mihariban, a local citizens' watchdog group, says its investigations indicate the city had planned to set aside about 1.6 billion yen to entertain IOC officials before the visits were forbidden.

The city says the new rules, including the ban on international promotional activities until September, meant less money was needed on promotional activities. Osaka has also set up a private organization to handle the bid and is relying on increased financial support from the local corporate community.



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