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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 July, 2005, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Chirac gives voters food for thought

By Andrew Fraser
BBC Sport in Singapore

Jacques Chirac touched down in Singapore on Tuesday to find some unwanted baggage waiting for him at the airport.

The French President jetted in to prepare for his role in the Paris bid's final presentation before Wednesday's vote to choose the host city for the 2012 Olympics.

French president Jacques Chirac
Has Chirac created a recipe for disaster with his criticism?

And - as if the rivalry between Paris and London was not hot enough already - Chirac found himself the focus of newspaper claims that he had made disparaging comments about English food.

Fair comment, you might say.

But such stories are the last thing you need when there is 24 hours to go to a vote which could turn out to be one of the most important in your capital's recent history - and your political career.

The Paris bid team has played it down, insisting that the comments attributed to Chirac in left-wing French newspaper Liberation cannot be verified and that there could be an agenda behind the story.

In the tense final hours of a contest which could well come down to a handful of votes, any negative publicity is a terrifying prospect

Chirac was reported to have commented: "We can't trust people who have such bad food. After Finland, it's the country with the worst food".

He also allegedly took a swipe at Scottish delicacy the haggis.

The story may ultimately have no effect whatsoever on whose name comes out of the envelope after the vote of International Olympic Committee members at 1246 BST on Wednesday.

But in the tense final hours of a contest which could well come down to a handful of votes, any negative publicity is a terrifying prospect.

The Chirac issue was music to London's ears after the controversy which sprang up when two Olympic experts criticised the Paris stadium at a news conference.

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe found it hard to bite his tongue as journalists came straight over to his briefing to ask whether he thought London was playing dirty.

But his repeated references to "fair play", and obvious distaste for the conduct of the British media, made it clear what he thought.

At the forefront of all five cities' minds is the fact that the most intense bidding contest in Olympic history is being played out within the framework of strict rules outlawing criticism of their rivals.

And with IOC members banned from visiting bidding cities, it has become increasingly hard for candidates to demonstrate what makes their bid so special without crossing the line.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair played a very straight bat when asked to comment on the Chirac story on Tuesday.

The rival leaders will try to avoid each other as much as possible in the final hours in an attempt to steer clear of trouble

"Particularly at this moment I don't want to get tempted down that path," he said.

The rival leaders will try to avoid each other as much as possible in the final hours in an attempt to steer clear of trouble.

Chirac's flying visit - he will be whisked off to Scotland after the presentation for the start of the G8 summit of world leaders - reflects this strategy.

While Blair arrived on Sunday to give him time to impress upon IOC members just how much his government and London want the Games, Chirac took a different approach.

Having led the unsuccessful Paris bid for the 1992 Games, he knows plenty of IOC members and feels they have already grasped what Paris has to offer.

He has chosen instead to focus on the presentation, knowing that London's later start time means Blair will be on his way to host the G8 by then.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone has praised the Paris bid, and insisted he will be delighted for his French counterpart Delanoe if the French capital wins the vote.

But it should make for interesting viewing when they meet to swap congratulations and commiserations - or perhaps reflect over some fish and chips on how Madrid, New York or Moscow beat them to the line to claim the greatest prize in sport.




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