altBy Duncan Mackay in Madrid


May 8 - As expected, Madrid received lavish praise as the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Evaluation Commission wrapped up its tour of the four cities bidding to host the 2016 Games.


Nawal El Moutawakel returned to chair the panel after missing the session yesterday as she had to return home to Morocco to attend to business in her role as the country's Sports Minister.


She said she was "most impressed" with the Spanish bid, almost exactly the same language she had used after visiting Chicago, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro.


Earlier, she had led most of the 13-person panel to a lunch with King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia and other members of the Spanish Royal Family and top Spanish athletes, including Real Madrid skipper Raul Gonzalez and world number one tennis ace Rafael Nadal.


The King said: "We can assure you the Olympic spirit that you breathe in Madrid is authentic."


The only member missing was Britain's Sir Craig Reedie, who had left the Spanish capital early to attend a meeting of the World Anti-Doping Agency in Montreal.


This visit completed a six-week worldwide tour that had taken in four continents.


El Moutawakel has refused to criticise any of the cities or compare them to each other.


But, nevertheless, she did seem to be genuinely impressed by Madrid's bid.


She said: "The positive points of the bid are numerous and we cannot list them all here.


"There are a large number of excellent existing venues, which are an added value for the Madrid candidacy.


"They are magnificent venues.


"The concept and the vision put in place by the bid committee and the support of the Government are all positive points for the bid."


This is Madrid's second consecutive bid to host the Olympics.


They narrowly missed out on 2012 when they reached the last three but were eliminated by London and Paris.


It is widely accepted that if they had reached the last two then they would probably have won because of the Latin vote.


Juan Antonio Samaranch junior, the son of the former IOC President and himself now an IOC member, claimed that the Madrid bid is even stronger this time.


He said: "The Madrid in 2012 was very good and it's only improved."


Earlier, Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said he was confident that the armed Basque separatist group ETA would not be able to disrupt the 2016 Games if Madrid is awarded the right to hold the event.

Spain held the football World Cup in 1982 and the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992 and neither event was marred by an ETA attack even though the outfit carried out over 250 strikes during those two years, he said.

Rubalcaba said: "If we had to stage the Olympics today, we could guarantee with absolute security that ETA would also not be present."

The biggest obstacle to Madrid winning on this occasion is thought to be that the IOC are unlikely to want to return to Europe so soon after London has hosted the Olympics.


But El Moutawakel insisted that unlike other world governing bodies, most notably FIFA, the IOC do not have a formal scheme of moving their events around the world depending on where they are located.


She said: "There is no rotation system.

"It is not discussed within the IOC so may the best city win."
Madrid officials are trying to claim that "cultural rotation" is just as important as moving the Games to different parts of the world.
Madrid's Mayor Alberto-Ruiz Gallardon said: "I like the notion of the Games being universal, ensuring they can be identified with all different cultures.
"We have stressed that after the Asian Olympic Games [in Beijing in 2008] and then what will be the Anglo-Saxon Olympic Games [in London in 2012] that we have the Mediterranean and Spanish Games." 
The Evaluation Commission will gather together in Lausanne later this month to continue to work on the report that is due to be published by the IOC on September 2, a month before they meet in Copenhagen at its Session to choose the host city for 2016.


El Moutawakel warned Madrid that much hardwork still lay ahead of them and the other bid cities in the next five months.


She said: "This is not the finish line.


"They have to work and work and work."


Teams of boosters from all four bidding cities are now set to fan out across the globe as they seek to met IOC members at events like the World Swimming Championships in Rome and the World Athletics Championships in Berlin to drill home their messages.


The completition of these Evaluation Commission visits marks only the end of the beginning.


That are sure to be plenty more twists and turns in this race before the tape is breasted.