Sarkozy lends support to Annecy Olympic bid
French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged his support Friday for Annecy's Olympic bid, adding it will be tough to overcome the ''extremely powerful'' rivals to host the 2018 Winter Games.
Sarkozy traveled to Annecy to meet with the International Olympic Committee evaluation commission that is inspecting the proposed venues.
French IOC member Jean-Claude Killy, playing a prominent role in the Annecy team, said the state support showed during the week had been ''very impressive.''
''We had lunch with the president at noon and it's very unusual,'' he said. ''When you get guarantees from a state like France, you get guarantees.''
Annecy is considered the outsider in the race that includes Munich and Pyeongchang, South Korea. The IOC will select the host city on July 6 in Durban, South Africa.
''You have got a very good bid book. Your region is absolutely beautiful. You want to host those games. We are going to fight together to have them,'' Sarkozy said during a tourism and economics conference in the ski resort of La Clusaz - the proposed venue for the cross-country skiing and Nordic combined events.
Annecy has been the outsider from the start of the 2018 campaign and narrowly made the list of three finalists in June when the IOC criticized the bid's spread-out venues.
Since then, Annecy officials have revamped their plans with a more centralized project centered around Annecy and Chamonix.
''You are trying hard,'' Sarkozy said. ''It's difficult. Your opponents are extremely powerful, but I'm with you. If we win the games, it will be fantastic. And if we don't win, all we did will be useful for your cities and your region.''
Killy said Annecy officials consider the race wide open.
''On June 22 we got a black eye from the IOC and we made a lot of changes after that,'' he said. ''We cut some resorts, we brought events closer to Annecy and put more emphasis to Chamonix. My feeling is very good, our governance has improved (...) and went back to normal.''
In December, Killy said the revamped approach had failed to impress IOC members and Annecy was still lagging in support. But the former Alpine skiing Olympic champion is adamant Annecy has a good chance of success.
''It's a saleable bid, Annecy is back in the race,'' he said. ''Annecy lost a lot of time, but I'm fairly optimistic it's not a big problem because there are still five months to go.''
Killy said the bid's strongest assets are the transportation system and environmental side of the project. He added that accommodation problems still persist.
''Accommodation is not that easy because there is not so many rooms in the Annecy region. That is a problem, let's face it,'' he said. ''There is couple of hotels that are going to join the bid for sure. We know our strong points and weaknesses. But there is no perfect bid.''
Sarkozy also drew hope from UEFA's decision to choose France as host of the 2016 European soccer championships.
''If we were only trying what we are guaranteed to achieve, we would stay in bed the whole day,'' Sarkozy said. ''We won (the 2016 Euro) by one vote. My role was to be with those who believed in our chances.''
IOC commission members visited the proposed venues for ice hockey and Alpine skiing competitions in Chamonix before meeting Sarkozy.
Annecy bid CEO Edgar Grospiron resigned in December amid a dispute over funding for the bid. He was replaced by French entrepreneur Charles Beigbeder, who is trying to secure new sponsorships deals.
Since Grospiron's departure, Annecy officials have increased their bid budget from $24 million to $29 million. Killy said he is unsure whether Annecy will find enough money to close the gap on Annecy's rivals.
''I'm not inside enough to know. I've been told it will be the case,'' he said. ''They are working at improving the budget, both in cutting spending and trying to get more money. I think they are successful at that and we have to be confident.''
Killy said he is not worried by the local opponents to the games, who are concerned about the costs involved and construction work on the proposed freestyle skiing site could cause environmental damage.
''You have that at every games,'' Killy said. ''The IOC met those people and they are very few. They want us to protect agricultural lands and the answer was very positive.''
Annecy is making its first Olympic bid, although France has staged the Winter Games three times - Chamonix 1924, Grenoble 1968 and Albertville 1992.
Annecy is the first stop on the commission's tour. The panel, chaired by IOC member Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden, will end its visit on Saturday and head to Pyeongchang next week before visiting Munich in March.