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Paris Dejected at Olympic Loss to London

  • Roger Wilkison

An unidentified member of the organizing committee cries after London was awarded the 2012 Olympics, in La Rochelle, France
Paris fell into a mood of dejection and disbelief following the announcement that rival London would host the 2012 Olympics. The Olympic Committee's decision to award London the games was one more blow for the already dispirited French.

The more than 10,000 people standing outside Paris' city hall had come to party. Paris, and for that matter, all of France, not only wanted the 2012 Olympics but expected to win, even though the bid's organizers never stopped warning about the dangers of complacency.

But when the shocking announcement from Singapore came that London had outpaced Paris, the crowd fell into a hush of disappointment and incomprehension.

Daniel Douillet, a former Olympic judo champion and a member of the organizing committee, says he does not understand why Paris lost.

He says France will need time to digest this blow. But he says Paris' bid was very strong and united the French. He adds that he and his colleagues on the organizing committee gave their very best effort, but, if it was not enough to win, well, that's life.

Even though many Parisians reacted with a Gallic shrug, some were bitter. Jocelyn Niot, who owns a sports store, insists that Paris' bid was better than London's but believes French media reports that Britain engaged in unacceptable last-minute lobbying of the International Olympic Committee.

"Tony Blair and other people from the London committee took some unfair steps like getting special meetings with IOC members and organizing everything just to lobby again. That's against the rules of the IOC," he said.

Mr. Niot's reaction reflects the feeling among many French that their country and its vaunted welfare state are under siege by the Anglo-Saxon or English-speaking world and what they see as its unfettered capitalism. France's economy is barely growing in comparison to Britain's, and the French are angry at their politicians for failing to provide answers to their concerns. The one thing that seemed to have brought the country together was Paris' Olympic bid, and to lose the games at the last minute after two years of being the front-runner is almost unbearable.

The London-Paris rivalry for the 2012 games comes on top of a bruising fight last month between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac over conflicting visions of the future of the European Union. A few days ago, Mr. Chirac poured scorn on British cuisine and claimed that Britain's main contribution to European agriculture was mad cow disease. Now, Mr. Chirac goes to the G-8 summit in Scotland without the Olympic prize he coveted, and, what is worse, has to face his nemesis, Mr. Blair, who won it.

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