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There are 137 days to go until the vote to decide the city that will host the 2012 Olympics, but nerves among the competing cities are beginning to fray.

Madrid's mayor has accused Eta, the Basque separatist group, of trying to thwart its bid. Paris has delayed its programme for building its swimming complex and New York is embroiled in a dispute over land acquisition for its proposed Olympic stadium.

This, then, should have been the perfect week for London. Forget the slate-grey skies and chill in the air, preparations for the visit of the International Olympic Committee's evaluation team had been carefully rehearsed and everybody had learned their lines. London will on Sunday wave the IOC team off at Heathrow, on their way to troubled New York, believing they are in with a real chance of confounding the sceptics and pipping favourite Paris to win.

The jarring note of the week was struck by Ken Livingstone, one of the frontmen for the bid, who should have been lording it round his capital giving interviews to the assembled national and international media.

But the row over the London mayor's insult of a Jewish journalist escalated and as the IOC visit got under way the mayor seemed isolated. As he rebuffed demands for an apology, deferring a statement on the row to Tuesday, London 2012, was left wondering how the city's mayor could allow the bid's coverage to become soured by his intransigence.

However, London 2012 insisted that the row never registered with the IOC team. Its 13 unassuming team members - former PE teachers, hockey players and sailors among them - were doubtless more engrossed in the sea bass, followed by duck, served on Friday night by the Queen's minions, against a backdrop of Olympic-style flame torches, the Yeomen of the Guard and Scottish pipers. London cast off traditional British reserve and unashamedly went for the hard sell. Giant projections lit up landmark buildings showing athletes and horses leaping over Big Ben, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

Over lunch at Downing Street, Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy put on a united front and shared in a photocall. London's celebrity-stuffed package included Cherie Blair QC, bid ambassador, explaining to the IOC team the finer points of intellectual property and contractual arrangements. Elton John, Mick Jagger, Elizabeth Hurley and Sir Ian McKellen were anointed bid supporters.

Lord Coe, the bid chairman, proclaimed London would host "the best Games ever", Tessa Jowell, culture secretary, said the planned investment was "going to change sport in this country forever". Even if the IOC team ever got wind of the Livingstone row, it was a fireside chat compared to the bust-up hampering Michael Bloomberg, Mr Livingstone's counterpart in New York.

The mayor and his deputy, Daniel Doctoroff, who is spearheading the Olympic push, have spent months trying to change the impression that anti-US sentiment will hurt New York's chances. But at home, they are fighting a distracting battle for the right to build the $1.4bn (£740m) stadium, the centrepiece of the New York games. Cablevision, the New York-based media group, fears a new stadium would hurt business at its sports venue, Madison Square Garden. This month it placed a last-minute bid for the property.

New York's state-owned transport authority owns the property and said it will evaluate the Cablevision bid along with the offer favoured by Mr Bloomberg for the New York Jets football club to become the post-games tenant.

The issue is dividing New York opinion. A veteran of the bidding process warned that if New York is unable to present a harmonious front on the siting of the main stadium, it could be taken as a signal that there is not full support for the bid. Received IOC wisdom has it that the final report of the evaluation team does not win you the games but can hasten defeat. In which case London, with its odds twice cut this week by Ladbrokes to stand at 2-1, remains well-placed to challenge Paris, the favourite, while New York may have blown it.

London 2012 was gently rubbing it in. "The three most important factors of an Olympic bid are the financial package, the planning and the site acquisition," said Lord Coe. "On all those three points we're ahead of the game."

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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