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Big week for Olympic 2016 bid cities and sports

LAUSANNE, Switzerland - The four candidates for the 2016 Olympics -- and the seven sports trying to be included in those games -- face a crucial week in the final stages of their global campaigns.

Less than four months before the host city vote, Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo get a chance to put their case straight to the members of the International Olympic Committee.

Wednesday's presentations and Thursday's informal individual meetings with members marks the first time the IOC has arranged such a forum for bid cities. It's essentially a trial run for the final presentations Oct. 2, the day of the vote in Copenhagen.

In a sign of the importance of this week's gathering, IOC president Jacques Rogge said at least 94 of 107 members will be attending.

"For the members, it's the opportunity to get a presentation without the frills," Rogge said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There will be no heads of states, no flashy videos, no presentation of fancy athletes. We can enter into more detailed questions."

IOC delegates have been barred from visiting candidate cities since the Salt Lake City scandal, so this week's program was arranged to give the bid teams direct contact with the members. The sessions set the stage for the final months of what shapes up as a tight race.

"I think it's going to be a very close call, a little bit like Singapore," Rogge said, referring to the 2005 vote in which London edged Paris in the final round.

But first up on Monday will be the seven sports federations competing for two spots on the 2016 program.

Golf, rugby sevens, softball, baseball, squash, roller sports and karate will make 45-minute presentations to the IOC executive board, followed by a question-and-answer session.

The 15-member board will meet in Berlin on Aug. 13-14 to choose two sports to submit for ratification by the full membership in Copenhagen.

Baseball and softball are seeking a return to the Olympics after being voted off the program for the 2012 London Games in 2005. The five others failed to get enough votes in 2005 for Olympic inclusion.

The IOC program commission has been evaluating the seven sports, attending their major events and assessing their strengths and weaknesses.

Golf and rugby sevens have received the highest reviews from the panel, a senior Olympic official with direct knowledge of the findings told the AP. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been completed or made public, said roller sports figured higher than baseball and softball.

Still, the decision in August will be up to the executive board, making Monday's presentations crucial.

"It's a very open race," Rogge said. "There are supporters of all seven sports both inside and outside the EB (executive board). I can say any of the seven would be good in the Olympic program."

He said the IOC is looking beyond the individual merits of each sport.

"We are looking for an added value -- wide appeal, especially for young people, universality, whether infrastructure is costly or not," Rogge said. "And, first and foremost, there must be a big fight against doping. This is a very important aspect.

"We also are looking to see if the sport or two sports fit well into the puzzle of the Olympic program. Do they bring something extra to the cohesion of the Olympic program?"

Golf is bringing retired Swedish great Annika Sorenstam, winner of 10 majors, and European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie to push its case.

Softball's team in Lausanne includes American star Jessica Mendoza, an Olympic gold and silver medalist who has been helping develop the sport in the Middle East and other areas.

"One of our biggest strengths is that the Olympics is the pinnacle of our sport," she said. "Little girls grow up dreaming of becoming an Olympian. An athlete's goal is to represent your country in the Olympic Games. Adding 120 female athletes to the docket also does a lot for equality in the Olympics."

For the 2016 bid cities, they'll have 45 minutes to make their case, followed by 45 minutes for questions and answers. The following day, the members can visit the bid teams in their hotel suites.

"It's the first time they will be really focused on the race," Chicago bid leader Pat Ryan told the AP. "It will be a chance to get a much more informed voter."

Rogge said it will be important for all cities to offer financial assurances and guarantees during a time of global recession. That could be especially key for Chicago, which like all U.S. bids, does not rely on federal government funding.

"We'll address that very directly," Ryan said. "We're proud of what we've got. We will show the financial strength of the bid and the marketplace."

Chicago also plans to remind the IOC that the bid is firmly backed by President Barack Obama, who has recorded video messages of support in the past and could go to Copenhagen in October for the vote.

"We'll certainly be in a position to demonstrate his support," Ryan said.

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