Premiership Footballers Unite to Back Paris 2012
French and Ivory Coast stars from Chelsea and Arsenal throw full weight behind Paris bid to host 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
L’Amour des Jeux has brought together Arsenal and Chelsea footballers, fierce rivals in the English Premiership, to announce their support for Paris 2012 as the IOC Evaluation Commission, headed by Nawal El Moutawakel, begins assessing the Bid in Paris today.
Demonstrating values that would make the modern Olympic Games founder Pierre de Coubertin proud, Arsenal players Robert Pires, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, and Chelsea players Claude Makelele, William Gallas and Didier Drogba are the latest sporting Ambassadors to pledge their support to Paris.
Arsenal’s Pires, who helped France reach the quarter-finals of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in Atlanta in 1996, believes the Games provide an unparalleled experience for sportsmen.
"As young people, we dream of being up on the Olympic podium, the national anthem playing and supporters from all around the world cheering for you. It is this competition that moves athletes and fans alike, and inspires our youth to get involved in sport, exploring their potential to be the sports stars of tomorrow".
"What France wants more than anything is to be able to host the Games in Paris. I have confidence in our National Olympic Committee and all the people that are supporting the bid to put everything in place. I feel that with our structure and the stadia already in place, France is well set".
Arsenal player Vieira, who was part of the 1996 France Olympic squad, is eager to be involved in assisting the French OCOG, should Paris become host to the 2012 Games. "The Olympics and Paralympics are really special for sports people and it would be doubly special for me personally, should we have the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in France".
"As both a sportsman and a French citizen, I am behind France every step of the way in their bidding effort. I know what this City is capable of and the Olympic Games would be magical in Paris. It’s every French footballers dream to play in their country, in front of the world, unified by the same passion for sport".
Vieira who created France’s third goal in their 3-0 World Cup final victory in 1998 against Brazil, believes the atmosphere in Paris during big tournaments is a key factor in the city’s favour. More than one million fans packed the Champs-Elysées when France won the trophy on July 12 1998.
"When we did a tour of victory in a bus down the Champs-Elysées, the feeling among the public was something really extraordinary", added Vieira, "We truly felt that the French people were behind us, and we felt that the pleasure of sport was shared between us the players, the French people and football enthusiasts from all around the world".
Chelsea’s Makelele, who also participated for France in Atlanta, believes that the Games will enhance Paris’s already impressive multi-cultural society. He said: "We have everything in France: the structure, the passion and the welcoming attitude".
"Having experienced it in the U.S., I think the Games are important for the future of sport. It’s really extraordinary how the Olympic and Paralympic Games unite the world and create an unparalleled ambiance. For France it would be a really stunning celebration".
Philippe Baudillon, CEO of Paris 2012 said: "We are immensely proud to be able to call on the support of these players. Their reputations as top international footballers is beyond question and despite their competitive nature on the field, it says much about their personalities that they are such great friends off it".
"Their Amour des Jeux typifies the support we enjoy across all of France".
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Thierry Henry, 27, joined Arsenal in 1999 from Juventus and is closing in on Ian Wright’s all-time scoring record of 185 goals. He has won the World Cup and European Championships with France and two Premiership titles and two FA Cups with Arsenal.
He was also voted English Footballer of the Year in 2003.
Henry, who was a fine sprinter as a youngster before opting for a career in football, is also keen to be involved should Paris win the vote, and thinks a successful bid would also inspire a new generation of athletes.
He said: "The Games will enhance France’s real spirit for sport. Maybe it will help us to discover a new Marie-Jo Perec or other new athletes. During the Games and the years that follow, there will be even more people wanting to take part in athletics. I think that its influence on young people, in the area of sports, will be something truly extraordinary.
"I remember watching the final of the 100 metres when the Games were in the U.S. and feeling that the people in the audience were extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to be there. I hope that like them, we too will have the opportunity to be there and I would love to be a part of it in some respect. "Don’t forget that France has shown already in the not too distant past that they are capable of organising great sporting events such as the World Cup and the Athletics World Championships", Mr Henry added.
William Gallas, 27, joined Chelsea from Marseille in 2001 and is a regular in the France national team. Has played a key role in helping Chelsea reach the top of the Premiership this season.
He said: "Having the Games in Paris would be so good for the city and for the Olympic movement. The whole nation will embrace the spirit of the Olympics even more because sport is so important for the French people. The Stade de France is one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world and so much is already in place for the Games".
Didier Drogba, 26, joined Chelsea from Marseille in 2004, having been credited with helping his former team to the UEFA Cup final last season. France Player of the Year in 2004, he is a regular international for the Ivory Coast.
He said: "Even though I have a dual nationality, I have always lived in France and for me it is as if I was also born in France. Paris is such a special city and I am convinced we have the talents and the capabilities to stage a really memorable Olympic Games and Paralympics".
Patrick Vieira, 29, joined Arsenal in 1996 from Ac Milan and is currently the club and France captain. He has won the World Cup and European Championships with France, and three Premiership titles and three FA Cups with Arsenal.
Robert Pires, 32, joined Arsenal in 2000 and has since helped them win two Premiership titles and two FA Cups. English Footballer of the Year in 2002, he has also won the World Cup and European Championships with France.
Claude Makelele, 32, joined Chelsea from Real Madrid in 2003 where he twice won the Spanish title as well as the hampions League. Formerly of Nantes, Marseille and Celta Vigo in Spain, he is also a regular in the France squad.