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Paris and London play on Africa links

June 18, 2005 13:33 IST

Former colonial powers Britain and France on Friday paraded their historical links to Africa to try to win backing for their bids to host the 2012 Olympics.

Officials and sports celebrities from the five cities hoping to host the Games were in the West African country of Ghana to try to influence African Olympic Committees at a quadrennial meeting.

The gathering is the last such forum before the International Olympic Committee votes next month in Singapore to choose a host for the 2012 Games. The candidates are Paris, London, Madrid, Moscow and New York.

"Africa and Paris have special relations, relations of the heart, of culture, of history and of the future," Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe told Reuters.

Africa has 19 votes among the 114 IOC members with voting rights in Singapore.

Paris is favourite to win the Games but London, which staged the Olympics in 1908 and 1948, has steadily been closing the gap under the guidance of bid chairman Sebastian Coe, twice the Olympic 1,500 metres champion.

"I hope that Africa votes for us. We have ambitions for a great, strong and dynamic co-operation between Africa and France," Delanoe said. "2012 is a bridge to that future, a means to develop sports for the future."

France controlled vast swathes of West and Central Africa until 1960 and still has close political and economic ties with many of its former African colonies.

While anti-French sentiment runs high in some countries like Ivory Coast and Togo, the capitals of others like Senegal have been plastered with posters promoting the Paris bid.

AFRICAN TALENT

Paris is seen as the most likely winner for 2012, but London also received a glowing report from the IOC evaluation commission earlier this month.

"We believe that the historical relations with Africa will (be) to London's benefit. London is like a second home to millions of Africans," Keith Mills, the chief executive of the London bid, told Reuters.

"Britain has demonstrated a lot of support for Africa. The Commission for Africa and the campaign by the Prime Minister and Mr (Gordon) Brown (finance minister) for debt cancellation is just one example," he said.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is also in Ghana, a former British colony, along with NBA player Dikembe Mutombo, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"In New York every country, every athlete would have their own hometown crowd and for every sport," Bloomberg told reporters.

Separately, IOC President Jacques Rogge told Reuters he was worried about poaching of African athletes by rich nations.

"We're very concerned about poaching, but the athletes also have ambitions they wish to fulfil," said Rogge. "The national athletic federations also have to work to improve facilities and opportunities for the athletes in their home countries."

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