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A Come-From-Behind Plan to Land the Olympics

Inside the hidden game to get the Games.

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One numbingly cold morning late last month, Dan Doctoroff, New York’s deputy mayor for economic development, was in Lausanne, Switzerland, home to the International Olympic Committee, waiting for a train. Beside the tall 45-year-old financier stood Charlie Battle, 62, an Atlanta attorney who serves as Doctoroff’s consigliere in the city’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics. Battle’s briefcase bulged with a stack of documents as thick as the White Pages and crafted for consumption by the IOC’s thirteen-person evaluation team, which will hit New York next week for four days of nonstop venue-visiting, presentations, and VIP-coddling.

The NYC 2012 office had been furiously preparing for that visit when it was hit with potentially crippling news—Cablevision, the owner of Madison Square Garden and an opponent of the proposed stadium that would serve as both a home for the NFL Jets and the centerpiece of a New York Olympics, had announced a competing bid for the West Side stadium site, which is owned by the MTA. It was a brazen and possibly brilliant attempt by Cablevision to derail Doctoroff’s well-laid plans at a very vulnerable moment. Just as he was trying to convince the world that New York is the perfect site for the 2012 Summer Games, Doctoroff was being undermined on his home turf.

Now the deputy mayor must defend the suddenly precarious stadium deal at the same time as he continues barnstorming around the globe, gathering the votes he’ll need on July 6, when the 115 members of the IOC will convene in Singapore to pick the winner from the five cities competing for the 2012 Games.

But Doctoroff is not easily deterred. As he and Battle waited for their train in Lausanne, most pundits had Paris pegged as the prohibitive front-runner, because of its deep Olympic ties and strong showing in early-stage evaluations. (British bookmaker Ladbrokes now has the French capital as the 1-to-4 favorite, while New York lags behind, in fourth place at 14-to-1. London is second, Madrid third, and Moscow a distant also-ran.) Yet, standing on that chilly platform, Doctoroff was full of optimism. “I’ve studied the recent history of Olympic voting intensely, and the truest rule is that conventional wisdom is generally wrong,” he explained. “Looking back all the way to the 1992 Games, the supposed front-runner at six months out only won twice, in Barcelona and Salt Lake City.”

And in both those cases, the result was essentially a fait accompli. Barcelona’s win was deeply desired, if not dictated, by Juan Antonio Samaranch, the Spaniard who reigned over the Olympic movement from 1980 to 2001. Salt Lake City, on the other hand, won using tactics so corrupt that they ignited an epic scandal that caused the Olympic bid rules to be overhauled.

At its heart, bidding for the Games is a political campaign—one waged within an evolving set of rules, requiring deft understanding of the various constituencies, and at a cost that could easily break $2 million per voter while offering no real possibility for assessing where one truly stands along the way.

All of which helps explain why Doctoroff and Battle spent part of their morning in Lausanne making the case that the tri-state area teems with crazed hockey fans. No, not ice hockey. Field hockey. That’s because the International Hockey Federation president, Els van Breda Vriesman of the Netherlands, is an IOC member and will also take part in the evaluation tour. So Doctoroff made sure the federation knew everything about the metro area’s large population of Indians and Pakistanis, two nationalities that are indeed mad for field hockey.

Doctoroff has been politicking for the Olympics for almost a decade now, even attending events involving sports that aren’t in the Summer Games. That train he and Battle were waiting for would take them to Turin, Italy, for the European Figure Skating Championships. The sport is beloved by many IOC members’s wives, making Turin a potentially good place to go after votes. Doctoroff and Battle are like a pair of political operatives going door-to-door, and the way they count the votes, they are in far better shape than it looks, heading for a photo finish in July with Paris. But if pressed, even they’ll admit that the IOC’s inscrutable election process makes the whole thing a crapshoot.


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