Paris Mourns: Dispatch from a Jilted City

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NO GAMES: In Paris, a crowd reacts with disappointment

It seemed like a bad omen, and so it was: Rain began to fall on the 10,000 or so Parisians gathered in front of their city hall just moments before International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, in far-off Singapore, announced the winner of the fierce competition to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. Assembled beneath a giant neon sign proclaiming "Paris 2012" on the neo-Renaissance building to celebrate what they had been led to believe would be a certain victory, the crowd held its breath as Rogge appeared on two giant television screens, opened the envelope, and then uttered the word Parisians least wanted to hear: London.

The collective groan that rose in the damp air expressed more than mere disappointment. Losing its third bid in 20 years to host the summer games was bad enough for Paris, but to lose to London seemed the cruellest of fates. Just two weeks ago, British Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to sign off on an EU budget that continues to commit the largest part of its revenues to agricultural subsidies that flow liberally to France. Last week, Britain commemorated — with some delicacy — the 200th anniversary of Lord Nelson's routing of Napoleon's fleet at Trafalgar. The traditional rival across the Channel has an economy that is motoring along at a steady clip, while France's is mired in high unemployment and anemic growth. President Jacques Chirac was reported earlier this week to have said of the English that "one could not trust people with such awful cooking." The IOC didn't care.

The French use the English term "fair-play" more than the English do, but it took on an ironic cast amid claims that the Brits had pushed too hard to land the 2012 Games. Learning from previous failed bids when Paris was painted as arrogant and pushy, Mayor Bertrand Delanoe had opted for modesty, letting Paris's Olympic merits speak for themselves. The failure of that approach in the face of full-court lobbying by the British left him bitter. "What made us lose was fair play," Delanoe said from Singapore. In Paris, Pascal Bildstein, vice president of the French Triathlon Federation, was more explicit: "When Princess Anne promises all the IOC members an audience with the Queen, it's just not ethical. This was a victory for Anglo-Saxon lobbying, and a loss for real Olympic values."

More than that, it was a setback for a nation in dire need of a victory — a defeat that has driven France a little deeper into one of its periodic bouts of self-doubt. "I think I can say without chauvinism that we had the best bid," said Jean-Francois Legaret, mayor of the central 1st Arrondissement of Paris. "So since we didn't win, we have to ask ourselves about the weight of everything else that contributed to our loss. Part of it, surely, is the whole idea about us being 'Old Europe,' part of it is our no (vote) in the referendum on the European constitution. Somehow the good name of France seems to be at issue, and that makes the defeat even worse."

There had been an inkling of relief before the rain. "All morning we saw the French united in an atmosphere of great solidarity," said Benjamin Clavier, a student wearing a Paris 2012 T-shirt. "Winning would have done a lot for our morale."