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Signs all point to Beijing in ’08

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MOSCOW — Despite an apparent last-minute surge in support for the bids of Paris and Toronto, there seems little chance Beijing will lose in Friday's vote by the IOC to select a host city for the 2008 Summer Games.

For one thing, Beijing only narrowly lost the chance to host the 2000 Summer Games to Sydney, Australia, when the International Olympic Committee voted back in 1983.

For another thing, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who will step down here after 21 years, has made it known he would like to end his Olympic career by sending the Games to the world's most populous country for the first time.

And then there were comments made earlier this week here by Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney in support of Beijing's bid. Although, frankly, they weren't having much of an impact here Thursday.

"Nobody took much interest in it," Irish IOC member Patrick Hickey said. "Not many members would know Mitt Romney here even though he's organizing the(2002 Winter) Games. They certainly wouldn't be influenced by him."

Anita DeFrantz, an IOC vice president from the United States, said Thursday she didn't even know Romney had spoken out about the Beijing bid. "A lot of people give us advice," DeFrantz said. "I guess he was giving us advice, as we have given him advice" on running the 2002 Winter Games.

France's Jean-Claude Killy called Romney's action "a little surprising." Killy, the deputy chairman of the IOC commission overseeing SLOC's 2002 preparations, said Romney's position would have little impact with members.

Romney did not endorse Beijing's bid but came close. "It is a great opportunity for the world family to throw out a circle that includes all," he told reporters at the end of a SLOC press conference Wednesday, calling for Beijing's bid to be "seriously considered, like those of the other bid cities."

Beijing's bid has been controversial because of China's poor record on human rights. The communist country has been criticized for silencing dissidents, including those seeking independence for Tibet. Romney, though, said it's a good time for Beijing to be considered as an Olympic host.

"Our world is in a very unusual and fortuitous circumstance. All of the major powers are at peace," he said. "We should be building bridges, not walls. For this reason, Beijing's bid should not be discarded."

Human rights was an issue when representatives of Beijing and the other contenders for 2008 — Istanbul, Osaka, Paris and Toronto — met with some of the 1,500 journalists here for the IOC's meetings.

But it's the IOC that makes the decision who will host an Olympics, not the media.

Since losing the 2000 Summer Games to Sydney by a mere two votes, Beijing's bid supporters have stepped up efforts to portray the Olympics as a way of accelerating the changes that are opening China to the world.

"The government has stepped up great efforts to develop parts of our country, and the Olympic Games will be a catalyst to develop further," said Tu Mingde, a senior Beijing bid official. "I can't say how, but it will really help.

"It is like inviting a VIP to your house. You accelerate the pace of your schedule. You buy nice mahogany furniture and nice silverware when you invite the guest of honor for dinner. We don't want to stop. We want to further develop."

Like Beijing, Toronto and Paris do offer technically strong and attractive bids. The Canadian candidate city is in the Eastern time zone, preferable for American television, the IOC's biggest revenue source. Paris has competitions planned for the Eiffel Tower and other internationally recognized historic landmarks.

IOC members will hear presentations from each of the five cities before voting Friday. On Thursday, they met with Russian President Vladmir Putin. Romney, too, was invited. He called the Russian leader "charming."

Also Thursday, the IOC Ethics Commission met. The commission's staff investigator, Francois Werner, said he would recommend no action be taken against an unnamed man involved in a new incident rising out of the Salt Lake bid.

It was unclear at the time of the incident "what was allowed and what wasn't," Werner said. "We can take lessons from the case."

Few details have been made public about the investigation launched in May, the first into the Salt Lake bid since the 1999 probe into allegations that members accepted more than $1 million in cash and gifts. That investigation led to the expulsion or resignation of 10 members plus the sanctioning of another 10.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

Contributing: The Associated Press