Annecy received only mild praise from Gunilla Lindberg, who also declined the opportunity to raise any concerns about the bid (ATR)
(ATR) The head of the 2018 IOC Evaluation Commission says she is impressed with the "very strong governmental support" for the Annecy Winter Olympic bid.
In a brief press conference lasting just 20 minutes and including only eight questions from reporters - four from international media - commission chair Gunilla Lindberg was cautious in her praise of Annecy.
The Swedish IOC member also gave no clue about any concerns that had arisen during the inspection team's four-day stay in the French Alpine town, which she described as a "beautiful lakeside city... situated in a region where winter sports are so popular".
On a positive note, she told reporters: "We have during our visit witnessed very strong governmental support which the bid enjoys and this was highlighted yesterday by the presence of the President Sarkozy and many members of his cabinet throughout the visit."
"I think the bid committee of Annecy has listened to the comments made by the IOC [criticism of the spread-out venues in June] and there has been a big improvement, especially not having so many competition venues as was proposed."
The IOC has spent four days scrutinising the French bid. Briefings were held on all aspects of Games planning, including venues, transportation, accommodations, security, financing and marketing.
Venue tours to the Annecy and Chamonix venue clusters took place on Thursday and Friday. Sarkozy met with the IOC delegation yesterday to give government guarantees and confirm his total support for the bid.
But there was no glowing assessment of the Annecy bid from Lindberg, a trend likely to be replicated in her summing up of inspection visits to rivals Pyeongchang and Munich in the coming weeks. In her introductory remarks, Lindberg noted only the bid team's "excellent and highly professional preparation, cooperation and hard work".
Lindberg said she was most impressed with "the very deep involvement of all the athletes and the bid committee. The athletes have a very important role... and also the energy and wish of the athletes to bring the Games to their home city".
She added: "For me it is a bid committee composed by the athletes' voice and that is important for us in the Olympic Movement."
Olympic Games executive director Gilbert Felli told the news conference he was satisfied with the good understanding the Annecy bid had about requirements for an Olympics at this stage of the bid race.
Asked by Around the Rings about the risks associated with the bid, Lindberg declined the opportunity to go into detail about any of them.
"That is exactly what we are going to report in our evaluation report in May. We just finalised our meetings and have been visiting all the venues.
"It will be both risks and opportunities but we have to analyse and we haven't had time to do that. We are starting tonight and will finalise the report in May."
Lindberg said the evaluation report would be made
Pernilla Wiberg, Charles Beigbeder and Jean-Pierre Vidal at Annecy's closing press conference (ATR)
public on May 10 ahead of the IOC-organized 2018 Bid Cities Briefing in Lausanne a week later.
Annecy has presented and promoted a bid based on two venue clusters. But with the bobsleigh track nearly an hour from the town, the IOC was asked if it had any concerns about it being regarded as a three-cluster concept.
"We will evaluate the bid again. I think the bid is a good concept for the athletes, if Annecy wins the bid for 2018," Lindberg replied.
Local protests this week in Annecy from 'Anti Jeux Olympique' also brought a question about the IOC's knowledge of the group's environmental concerns. The organization also claims the Olympics is a waste of money.
Felli confirmed the IOC delegation had met with Anti-J.O. representatives, adding that the commission had listened to their concerns about the bid and questioned the bid committee and local authorities based on those discussions.
Annecy 2018 Chief: "We Are En Route to Win This bid"
Reacting to the IOC's assessment, Annecy 2018 CEO Charles Beigbeder emphasized that the bid was now back on track after seven months of hard work to address IOC criticisms of its venue plan. His comments came at a news conference that followed the IOC's summing up of its visit.
Describing June 22 as a wake-up call from the IOC, he said: "It was almost tempting to go home and feel defeat but that is not in our Alpine spirit. We have been given guidance as to the direction that we had to move in. We managed to change a lot of things and this means that today we could offer a real project for 2018."
He added: "This is the hardest part of a long sprint towards Durban that will finish in July. I was pleased to hear that the message we have about the spirit and details of the Annecy bid have finally been understood.
"I think we are en route to win this bid.
"We have overcome one obstacle yes, but we still have got a lot to do. We have 144 days to go to bring this beautiful project to bear and make our country so proud."
Asked by Around the Rings about which key areas Annecy needed to work on most to improve the bid, Beigbeder said: "To work on telling the whole world we have a solid bid and in particular to convince the IOC."
French IOC member Guy Drut revealed that he will be setting up an international office in March. A team of experts made up of athletes will advise Beigbeder on how to best promote the bid at global events in the build-up to the July 6 vote, such as SportAccord in London in April.
"I am completely and totally involved in the bid," Drut insisted, without referencing his scepticism for the bid's budget problems that were widely reported in French media in December.
"There are many athletes from winter and summer Games disciplines who will work alongside me to prove just how good our bid is," he said.
"If we are awarded the Games in 2018, no one will regret that choice."
Pernilla Wiberg and Jean-Pierre Vidal, the bid's two vice-presidents, and NOC president Denis Masseglia were among other bid officials who spoke about the success of the IOC visit at this evening's press conference.
The IOC Evaluation Commission heads to Korea tomorrow for its Feb. 16 to 19 inspection of Pyeongchang. The IOC delegation visits Munich Feb 28 to March 4.
Reported from Annecy by Mark Bisson
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