What is increasingly seen as a two-horse race has entered the final bend with London and Paris neck and neck after the International Olympic Committee's evaluation commission last week declaring that the bids of the two cities for the 2012 Games were of a 'very high quality'. Madrid and New York were said to possess 'high quality' bids while Moscow, the fifth and last contender, looks out of the reckoning after the IOC report card revealed that the Russian capital's bid 'lacked planning and background information'. The difference between 'high quality' and 'very high quality' is purely semantics. But for those observers well-versed with the diplomatic jargon often used by the IOC, it means that the recommendations to the 116 IOC members who will vote on July 6 in Singapore is - go for either London or Paris. With New York unable to get financing for its showpiece Olympic Stadium, and Madrid being flagged by the IOC for its lack of hotel rooms, all bets are on it being a race between London and Paris. The winning city will have to get an absolute majority. So if Paris were to get 50 votes in the first round (there will be 99 votes if everyone turns up in Singapore - 16 of the 116 members will not vote in the first round as they are affiliated to the five bidding cities, and one more, Prince Albert of Monaco, died recently), they will be declared winners. The initial rounds of voting will purely be a face-saving measure for the lesser candidates - Moscow, Madrid and New York. What is most crucial for both London and Paris is the second-choice preferences of those voters who backed Moscow, Madrid and New York in the earlier rounds. This is where the battle will be won or lost. While London and Paris will both lobby strongly to be first-choice preferences, they both know that their dream will depend on who attracts most of the second-choice votes. Will the votes that went to New York end in the London camp, or will those Europhiles who backed Madrid and Moscow plump for Paris? Is London's backing for the American-led invasion of Iraq still a factor. Will the French government's anti-American stance on this issue count? All factors will have to be taken into account. This is not mere sport. It is politics. The IOC evaluation commission has said that compared to Paris, London's only drawback is that its transport infrastructure is not in place yet. But London bid chief Lord Sebastian Coe has promised that by 2012, the British government would have spent nearly #17 billion ($239 billion) and that the transport system would match, if not better that of Paris. The technical report of the evaluation commission is just a guideline to the IOC members. With both cities presenting similar bids, the deciding factor will be not how well the transport system works, but on which city has done its homework on horse-trading. Both London and Paris have the backing of its respective governments. Endorsing the bid, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: 'Sport is the lifeblood of the United Kingdom as the thousands of British supporters who travelled to Athens demonstrates. 'This passion for sport, coupled with the diversity of London would, I know, deliver full venues and an atmosphere like no other'. All political factions of France are behind the Paris bid. French President Jacques Chirac, who lost out on the recent referendum on the European constitution, subsequently reshuffled his cabinet. But he kept the popular Jean-Francois Lamour, a former two-time Olympic gold medalist in fencing, as his minister of sport. He did not want to make any last-minute changes to the bid team which is headed by the Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe. Lamour is a right-winger while Delanoe is a socialist. But they are all united under the banner 'L'Amour des jeux'. The outcome is too close to predict. Both London and Paris reek of history and tradition. They both are visually magnificent cities. In the end, it will all boil down to which city has more passion to stage the Olympics. And unlike in the past, when Paris lost out to Barcelona in 1992 and Beijing in 2008, this time the French are humbler and less arrogant. There is no feeling this time that they are doing the world a favour by 'loaning' Paris to the Olympics. This time they want the Games badly - and are courting the world for it. This new approach might be just what it takes to land Paris the Games.