Blair: Berlusconi helped London win 2012 Olympics

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair credits Italian Premier

Silvio Berlusconi with helping London secure the 2012 Olympics.

Blair also says in his new autobiography that he was dubious

about bidding for the games, never thought London would win and

feared being ”humiliated” by losing to the French.

In his book ”A Journey” released Wednesday, Blair gives his

fullest account to date of his role in London’s victory over Paris

in the International Olympic Committee vote in Singapore in July

2005.

After Moscow, New York and Madrid were eliminated in the first

three rounds, London beat the French capital 54-50 in the final

vote.

Blair played a crucial part by traveling to Singapore before the

vote and meeting with dozens of IOC members, a strategy since

followed by other world leaders to push their country’s Olympic

bids.

In the book, Blair reveals he had the help of an unlikely

ally.

”There was one final person without whom we may not have won:

Silvio Berlusconi,” he writes.

Blair relates that the previous August he went to visit

Berlusconi at his home in Sardinia to seek his help with the

Olympic bid because Italy ”was a key player.”

Berlusconi asked if it mattered ”greatly” for Britain to get

the games and when Blair said it did, Blair writes:

”He said, ‘You are my friend. I promise nothing but I see if I

can help.’ Typical Silvio, which is why I like him. Most

politicians say ‘I promise’ but then do nothing. He said ‘I promise

nothing’ but then delivered.”

Italy had five IOC members, the most – along with Switzerland –

of any other country.

”I have no idea how the Italians voted, but …” Blair writes,

leaving the rest unsaid.

A swing of three votes in the final round would have given Paris

the games.

Blair says he and his Cabinet were doubtful about mounting an

Olympic bid in the first place and that it was Tessa Jowell, his

secretary of state for culture, media and sports, who finally

convinced him to give the project his backing.

”Yes, but suppose we get beaten and, what’s worse, we get

beaten by the French and I end up humiliated?” Blair says he told

Jowell.

Blair praises Sebastian Coe, the former middle-distance running

great who replaced American businesswoman Barbara Cassani to lead

the Olympic bid. Blair, leader of the Labour Party, says he was

initially skeptical but then won over by Coe, a former Conservative

Party lawmaker and chief of staff for opposition leader William

Hague.

”He had none of the worst Tory traits and most of the best

ones,” Blair writes.

Blair also cites the role of David Beckham, who ”generally sent

Singapore into a twitter, which is exactly what was required.”

For most of the campaign, Blair wasn’t hopeful of London’s

chances because Paris was considered a heavy favorite.

”We weren’t even second in the running, and personally I

doubted we would ever win,” Blair writes.

He debated whether to go to Singapore at all.

”In the end, I did, but as much because this was a crime scene

I had to be present at in order to have an alibi, to avoid being

criticized for not trying hard enough,” Blair says.

Blair describes how he met with about 40 individual IOC members

in his Singapore hotel suite. His aides gave him slips of paper

detailing each member’s likes and dislikes.

Blair recounts one incident in which he mistook a member for a

champion javelin thrower until Coe broke in to clarify that he had

been an ice skater. Blair also relates an ”entirely elliptical”

conversation with the Russian delegation.

”The gist of it was that we all understood each other very

well, that they were very true to their word and so were we, and

they didn’t like people who weren’t (I got a bit uneasy at that),”

Blair writes.

Before Blair left Singapore to host the G8 summit in Gleneagles,

Scotland, French President Jacques Chirac arrived to head the Paris

delegation. Blair describes Chirac as ”swinging into the party

like he owned the Olympics and everything in it.”

While Chirac spoke at the official presentation before the vote,

Blair appeared in a video.

The French ”affected an attitude of ‘we are going to win and

aren’t you lucky when we do’ and tried to sweep people along as if

invincible – very French,” Blair writes.

”We affected an attitude of ‘we humbly beg to offer our

services to your great movement’ and paddled and conspired like

crazy underneath the surface – very British.”

Blair was in Gleneagles when he learned of the result.

”I, of course, shot up like a rocketing pheasant on one of the

nearby moors,” he writes.

Chirac, meanwhile, was one of the first leaders to arrive for

the summit.

”I felt genuinely sorry for him,” Blair writes. ”No I really

did.”