From wire and staff reports The IOC late Wednesday decided in Lausanne, Switzerland, to let Osaka and Istanbul, Turkey, stay in the race for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The move came a day after the two cities were all but ruled out of the running and only hours after the IOC was reported to be pondering whether it should ask Osaka and Istanbul officials to drop their bids.

In an official evaluation report assessing the five finalist cities, Beijing, Toronto and Paris were rated as “excellent” bids, while Osaka and Istanbul were deemed unprepared to stage the games.

The International Olympic Committee executive board discussed whether to tell the two cities to withdraw from the campaign or let them go forward to the vote in Moscow on July 13.

While both cities pledged to stay in the race, some IOC officials believed it would be best for them to drop out rather than spend more money and effort on doomed bids.

But the board decided to retain all five candidates.

“All five are invited to the session in Moscow,” IOC director general Francois Carrard said. ‘We have a report. The report is clear. There is no reduction.”

Carrard said each city has until May 25 to file any objections or clarifications on the IOC evaluation report. He did not rule out the option of any of the cities deciding to drop out on their own.

“It is up to the cities to draw whatever consequences they want to draw from the report,” he said.

The responses of the bid cities to the report will be supplied to all IOC members, he said, but the evaluation document itself will not be revised.

“Everybody thought about it overnight and said, ‘You know, it really wouldn’t be right to do anything, certainly before they have had a chance to reply,’ ” senior IOC member Dick Pound of Canada said. “It’s their call. If they want to withdraw, it’s up to them.”

As for the evaluation, it contained several criticisms of Osaka’s bid that it concluded city officials had not fully addressed.

Foremost among these were transportation infrastructure and financing the construction of facilities. Osaka’s crowded, narrow streets and the long distances between many of the events led the committee to conclude that transport congestion could be serious.

Another problem cited was the financial strain the Olympics would place on Osaka’s already precarious financial position. Osaka Prefecture is all but bankrupt, and the city has over 5 trillion yen in debts.

There was also the issue of public support. Although Osaka officials stressed that support for an Osaka Olympics was about 75 percent, an independent IOC survey showed that only 52 percent, the lowest figure among the five bid cities, supported the hosting of the Games.

Osaka Mayor Takafumi Isomura, who was in Lausanne, was clearly upset with the low rating, saying it did not reflect the bid’s reality.

“As to concerns over financing, projects like Kansai International Airport, which are not directly related to the Olympics, were included in the operating costs. This may have invited misunderstanding,” he said.

The mayor did not comment on the IOC survey that showed an extremely low level of public support.

In Osaka, calls were growing Wednesday for the city to bow out of the race. Anti-Olympic groups said they would step up pressure on the city to withdraw, and two senior business leaders with the Osaka Chamber of Commerce, speaking anonymously, said their advice to the mayor would be to withdraw after the East Asian Games, which begin Saturday.

While Osaka officials maintained they will continue their push until the IOC formally selects a winner in July, Isomura indicated that Osaka might withdraw if the IOC formally advised it to do so.

“In the event that the IOC Executive Board makes a recommendation in the appropriate manner, then perhaps we’ll have to abide by it,” he said in Lausanne.

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