TV & Radio
FRANCE: One more loss in nation's string of defeats
- Elizabeth Bryant, Chronicle Foreign Service
Thursday, July 7, 2005
Paris -- Paris had the blues Wednesday, as its shattered dreams of hosting the 2012 Olympics added to a string of recent major French defeats.
"It's true, there's a feeling of injustice," said Deputy Mayor Anne Hidalgo, in televised remarks, minutes after the International Olympic Committee shocked most of France by picking London to host the 2012 games.
"It's true there's a terrible sadness," Hidalgo said. "We're just going to have to deal with it."
Nearby, the thousands who had gathered expectantly to watch the news from Singapore broadcast live outside the Paris city hall dispersed quickly. Gloom hung as thickly as the gathering clouds.
"We lost, and it's distressing," said Jean de Flores, a stocky man in his 60s. "But the British didn't play a good game. They said many disagreeable things about Paris."
Criticism of a major Paris stadium by a pair of London bid consultants had sparked outrage in France, as did the perception that Britain's pitch had been overly aggressive.
Asked about British Prime Minister Tony Blair's assertive courtship of International Olympic Committee representatives in the last few days, French judo champion David Douillet answered despondently, "Evidently it must be a good tactic. It's not ours ... and I hope it never will be."
The IOC's rejection of Paris -- which had been considered a shoo-in for 2012 -- could not come at a worse time for a country already demoralized by a sense that French clout in the world is fast eroding.
A string of recent best-sellers, with titles like "France Is Falling," has done nothing to shore up the national sense of self.
"Maybe the members of the (IOC) think that the wind of modernity is blowing more from London's direction than from Paris," speculated French international relations expert Pascal Boniface, in an interview on France Info radio, following the IOC's announcement.
Hosting the Games, French officials confidently predicted, would have brought billions of dollars in tourism and investment and created some 60,000 new jobs, a windfall for France's center-right government, now battling a 10 percent unemployment rate -- and for President Jacques Chirac, whose poll numbers have tumbled to historic lows since French voters rejected the European constitution in May.
"Winning the Olympics could have only improved things," Henry Rey, a researcher at the Study of French Political Life, said of Chirac. "He can go nowhere but up."
Several analysts speculated Wednesday that Chirac's reported slur against British food at a Russian summit last weekend -- describing it as the world's worst after Finland's -- may have factored into why the IOC spurned Paris' bid.
Now, Chirac must eat something worse -- crow -- as he attends the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. His archrival and G-8 host, Prime Minister Blair -- the man Chirac sparred with bitterly during European Union budget talks last month -- is basking not only in London's Olympic victory, but also in his new post, as president of the European Union for the next six months.
The Paris defeat also marks the first major setback for the city's popular Socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, who is also one of the openly gay politicians in France.
During his four years in office, Delanoe, 55, has launched a number of successful projects, from the wildly popular Paris plage -- a faux summer beach that has been replicated in other European cities -- to installing new bike and bus lanes in an effort to "greenify" the city.
In a recent poll, Delanoe tied for top place as the leftist politician French voters would most like to have as president.
Even as he congratulated "London and the Londoners," a stunned Delanoe suggested his British rivals had not been true sportsmen.
"What made us lose," he said, alluding to London's more aggressive tactics, "was fair play."
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