PtG Comment 10.09.2010

Tony Blair's Olympic journey

Tony Blair's book "A Journey" has put the spotlight back on his controversial time as Prime Minister. In the memoir, Blair exposes himself and people he has met, and of course it is his relationship with Gordon Brown and his decision to support the U.S. in the war in Iraq that has so far received the most attention.

I suggest that Tony Blair's role in the games surrounding the London Olympics should get more attention! At least I do after looking through his book.


When London managed to win the Olympics in Singapore in 2005 Tony Blair was portrayed as the man who made it for them by being present at the IOC-session in Singapore. In the polls Tony Blair made a great leap upwards due to the success of the London Olympic bid committee in the otherwise dark times for the Prime Minister. But the victory of London was not only a result of Tony Blair’s presence in Singapore, it was also a result of his secret meeting with fellow politicians at the international stage, according to Tony Blair’s “A journey” (pages 544-552). If Tony Blair is right it shows that the road to the hearts of the IOC representatives does not always go through overtures made on official IOC meetings.

Berlusconi fixes the Olympics?

In the book, Blair writes that he went to Silvio Berlusconi's home in Sardinia to ask him to influence the Italian IOC delegates. In 2005, Italy had the largest number of IOC delegates – 5 in total. In this meeting, Berlusconi supposedly asked Blair repeatedly how important it was for him to get the Olympics. After answering “greatly” several times Berlusconi, according to Blair’s book, said "You are my friend, I promise nothing but I see if I can help”. In the final round of voting, London won over Paris by 54 to 50.

Afraid of the French

Initially, Tony Blair was not in favor of an Olympic bid and his main objection, according to the book, was that it would be a disaster for London if it lost to Paris. President Jacques Chirac, who helped Paris in Singapore, receives little honorable mention in Blair's book. According to Blair, Chirac took a French victory for granted. Chirac lost!

Olympics and terrorism

It may seem provincial to highlight Blair's Olympic journey in the light of all the other political issues, but this is far from a marginal issue in British politics. Firstly, the London Olympics gave the hard pressed Prime Minister a much needed boost. He was simply given space to breathe. Secondly, it shows that government officials actively seek to influence IOC members through personal acquaintances in international politics. This is neither in the Olympic spirit nor in line with IOC guidelines, which say that the IOC's decision must be made independently. Thirdly, the victory had major financial implications for London and the UK. One London Olympics cost as much as 3-4 years of warfare in Iraq (Britain withdrew from Iraq in April 2009) and Afghanistan.The combination of Iraq (and Afghanistan) and the London Olympics is a very good illustration of how complex and paradoxical Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister was. Tony Blair brought the Labour Party to great heights and led the Party to victory in three elections in a row. Now he is seen as a pest in Labour. Tony Blair joined the U.S. crusade in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other things, to combat terrorism. At the same time, the London Olympics may contribute to an increased terrorist threat to London and the UK because of the British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tony Blair’s journey as Prime Minister is over. His Olympic journey is not.