TV & Radio
For Paris, another stab in the heart strikes deep
By Elaine Sciolino The New York Times
THURSDAY, JULY 7, 2005
PARIS Defeated and devastated, France struggled Wednesday to absorb the news that despite the overwhelming odds in its favor, it had lost the 2012 Summer Olympics to London.
Bertrand Delanoë, the Socialist mayor of Paris, who more than any other French figure came to symbolize the Paris bid for the Games, openly expressed bitterness that in his view, the best city had not won.
"This is a huge disappointment that I cannot explain, to tell you the truth," he said in an interview broadcast on LCI French television from Singapore, where the International Olympic Committee chose London over Paris, 54 votes to 50.
Reflecting raw emotion that something had gone terribly wrong, he said, "I had understood that the best bid, the best state of mind, was what it was about." He added, "Maybe you need not play fair in order to win a competition fair and square."
By contrast, Françoise de Panafieu, a deputy in the National Assembly and mayor of the 17th arrondissement of Paris, where about 50 hectares, or about 125 acres, were to be transformed into an Olympic Village, responded with a world-weariness familiar in France.
"Bravo to the English," she said in a telephone interview. "Life doesn't stop. I'm still a deputy and a mayor with work to do." But, she added, "There will be no Champagne today, just flat water."
The center-right newspaper Le Figaro was so certain of a French victory that about 15 minutes before the announcement, the main headline on its Web site read, "Paris Will Organize the 2012 Olympic Games."
France gambled that by shedding its image of arrogance and stressing its superior infrastructure and services, Paris would beat out London, Madrid, New York and Moscow.
Its defeat marks its third failure to win the Games and is another blow for President Jacques Chirac, who is suffering from his lowest popularity rating in the polls in his 10-year presidency. In France's failed bid for the 1992 Games, Chirac was mayor of Paris; in its bid for the 2008 Games, he was president.
This time, France's 27 million, or $32 million, campaign, with its promise of urban renewal projects inside Paris and the creation of 42,000 jobs, was supposed to pay off.
In an embrace of the common man, few events would have taken place in the wealthy center of the city, except for obvious crowd pleasers like beach volleyball at the Eiffel Tower. Ten percent of tickets would have been sold for 10; taxi drivers would have taken courses in languages like English and Spanish.
In addition, Paris already had what London did not: a main stadium - the Stade de France, an 80,000-seat, first-class flying saucer of a sports stadium built in 1998 for the World Cup, which France won that year.
In an interview in Wednesday's editions of Le Monde before the decision, Delanoë praised the absence of a culture of "Anglo-Saxon lobbying" in France that could seem like "harassment" and expressed confidence that "the truth" would prevail.
Even the slogan for its bid - "L'Amour des Jeux," or "Love of the Games" - was portrayed not as a furious passion that burns out, but as a mature love that lasts a lifetime.
"'L'Amour' means commitment," the French ambassador to Australia, Patrick Henault, was quoted as saying at one point. "It's not a one-night stand."
In Paris on Wednesday, thousands of people, including tourists, crammed into the square in front of the Hôtel de Ville, or city hall, to watch television coverage of the countdown on two large screens.
The crowd cheered when the announcements came that Moscow, New York and then Madrid had been eliminated. Every time London was mentioned, a loud boo rose from the crowd.
One minute before the final announcement, it began to rain. When the word "London" instead of "Paris" was uttered, a collective gasp rose from the crowd, followed by shouts and boos.
"They don't even have the euro!" one man in the crowd yelled.
Adding to the surrealism of the scene, a brass band played the theme song from James Bond films before walking off the stage.
In stark contrast with the brutal rejection of the European constitution - and the French political and economic establishment - in a referendum in May, the campaign for the Games appeared to bring the French people together.
The business community, for example, joined the unions in promoting the Paris bid. Even a strike by tens of thousands of public sector workers in Paris in March, on the day when International Olympic Committee inspectors visited the city, was an empty ritual rather than serious effort to cripple the city.
Most symbolic was the image of Chirac, of the center-right, standing side-by-side in Singapore on Wednesday with Delanoë, who is openly gay and a long-shot presidential candidate in 2007.
In a statement issued after the decision as Chirac was en route to Scotland to attend the Group of 8 summit meeting, he congratulated London and wished Britain "good luck" and "complete success."
Just hours earlier, in his presentation to the Olympic delegates, Chirac had said, "The heart of Paris and the heart of France are beating in unison in the hope of becoming Olympic host in 2012."
Indeed, a 30-minute film by the French filmmaker Luc Besson, part of the Paris presentation to the IOC, showed Paris at its most seductive, with images of the Eiffel Tower in twinkling lights, and the Arc de Triomphe as approached from the Champs-Élysées.
Only in Paris does it seem plausible that a rock music icon (Johnny Hallyday in the film) would spot a beautiful blonde (ice-goddess film star Catherine Deneuve) and order a red-uniformed doorman to present her with masses of white lilies and roses before she departs the Champs-Élysées in a top-of-the-line, chauffeur-driven black Renault Vel Satis.
Alan Riding and Tristan Redman contributed reporting.