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Olympics-Paris sells itself on romance and culture

Olympics-Paris sells itself on romance and culture

Close your eyes and imagine the Paris Olympics. What do you see?

Beach volleyball beneath the Eiffel Tower? A marathon run past Notre Dame? Thousands of sports fans mingling with fashion aficionados on the world-famous Champs-Elysees?

If the organisers of the city's bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games get their way, the images could become reality.

They aim to capitalise on the cultural and historical appeal of the romantic city and believe an Olympics in Paris could even upstage last year's Sydney Games, dubbed the best ever by Juan Antonio Samaranch, head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"The Olympics will take place in the heart of the city, as the city will be at the heart of the games. The whole event would offer the world unique images where sport, art and culture mingle in an unprecedented fashion," said bid chief Claude Bebear.

"We will make Paris a city for athletes, a city for the public who come to watch and a city for the rest of the world, while respecting the needs of Parisians," he said.

Bebear said the occasion was likely to be one of the last chances for the city to host the Olympics.

"After 2012, the northern area of the city, where we intend to build the Olympic Village will be too built up. We already see that in London, Rome and Berlin and other historic cities."

Paris could be favourites to win the Games in 2012 if this year's front-runners Beijing pip them to the post for 2008.

TRANSPORT LINKS

Bebear said the size and scale of Paris and a good transport network meant most of the events could take place within a 20-minute radius of the Olympic Village, while the sailing would be hosted in La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast.

"Paris is compact and has many facilities. Athletes and the public will not have to travel far for the events or training," said Bebear, adding that many athletes would be able to get from their accommodation to their competition venues or training centres in around five minutes.

Much of the infrastructure which could host the events is already in place, including the futuristic UFO-like Stade de France, where many of the stadium-based events would be held.

On the north side of the city, the stadium is near the ringroad, close to a fast train into the city centre and a stone's throw from the proposed site for the Olympic village.

Bid organisers argue that past experience in organising large sports events, including the 1998 soccer World Cup, extremely favourable media coverage and optimum weather conditions in July and August will also help the Paris bid.

Bebear, a businessman with little previous sports experience, has rallied the support of domestic and international giants, including the world's biggest luxury goods group LVMH and hypermarket chain Carrefour , since he took charge of the bid.

"Studies carried out on a representative sample of the French population show that 80 percent of people in this country think Paris should host the Olympics in 2008," Bebear told Reuters.

"Added to that, more than 100 French athletes have already said they support the city's bid to host the 29th Olympics."

LOW-KEY BID

A national advertising campaign in the run-up to a visit by an IOC evaluation committee from next Monday urged Parisians to support the French capital's bid to host the Games.

The highlight of the television and text campaign was a commercial starring French soccer player Marcel Desailly picking up the restaurant bill for someone at a nearby table.

The campaign ends: "Today it is your turn to make France win," implying that sports stars had helped France to win glory in events such as the soccer World Cup and it was now up to Parisians to reciprocate.

Apart from billboard posters and occasional television adverts, the French bid has been relatively low-key, compared to Beijing's.

Paris bid organisers have refused to comment on the prospects of the Chinese city, or the three other shortlisted venues, Toronto, Istanbul and Osaka.

The IOC will decide between the five cities on July 13.

"We have confidence in our bid. It shows we are a democracy," said a bid spokesman, adding that organisers were not concerned that Paris had launched a lower-profile campaign than Beijing, where Olympic fever was rampant in the run-up to their visit from the IOC committee last month.

"We will not be decking the Champs-Elysees in flags especially for the committee. They should know there is no need. But there will be a big event in a couple of months," the spokesman said, without giving details.

Nor are organisers worried by the commonly-held belief that the Games should be rotated between the continents.

"That argument has no real basis. We aim to show that Paris will be best for the athletes and the public, regardless of the fact that Athens will host the 2004 Olympics," Bebear said.

"Most importantly it will boost the image of France in the eyes of the world - and it will prove that Paris taxi drivers aren't all that bad."


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