BRUSSELS—London and Doha are going down to the wire in the race for the 2017 world track and field championships. The bids could hardly be more different, posing a fundamental choice at Friday's vote in Monaco.
Doha offers an unprecedented step into the Arab world, where the desert heat and scarcity of a local fan base is offset by the promise of an air-conditioned stadium and deep pockets of gas-rich Qatar.
London has traditions dating to the 1908 Olympics and a huge multinational fan base in one of the world's great capitals. It also wants to keep the championships in the sport's European heartland where fan and sponsorship interest is assured.
Such contrasting visions could leave the 27 voters on the IAAF council in a bind.
"It goes to the last moment," said council member Sebastian Coe, whose vote is beyond doubt as an Englishman who also organizes next year's Olympics in London. "It is not completely unrealistic to say that a handful are probably sitting there still weighing up the balance and probably might even wait until they hear the presentations tomorrow."
Both sides used the last hours to make belated pitches.
The London bid promoted itself as the "athletes' choice" on Thursday because more than 100 international athletes signed letters of support. Doha chairman Sheikh Saoud Bin Abdulraham followed by saying his bid represents "the choice of the people" after a poll from a sports agency gave his group an edge.
Hours before the vote late Friday, both cities will give a final presentation to the council members.
"This is why it is really important not to take our eye off the ball and start speculating," said Coe, a veteran of Olympic bids. "Just work right up until the last minute. And the last minute is simply when he have answered the last question in the presentation room."
Both bids were considered so good that it was even considered to throw in the hosting of the 2019 event as a part of a possible IAAF deal to satisfy both cities. However, both rejected the idea.
The intensity of the bidding recalls the vote for soccer's World Cup last December when Qatar upstaged the favorites for the 2022 tournament.
Doha is looking to complete a perfect sports trifecta in five years. The small emirate jutting into the Persian Gulf is also bidding for the 2020 Olympics to go with the World Cup two years later.
With 850,000 citizens in the country, it is dwarfed by greater London alone, which has about 8 million. Instead it wants to dazzle with technology and never more so than promising to air-condition its 40,000-seat Al Khalifa Stadium, part of a $400 million facelift of a state of the art stadium. Doha already received assurances it will be able to hold the championships in September to avoid the worst of the summer heat. The championships usually are in August.
While Doha is a step into the unknown for the IAAF, the preparations for the Olympics next year show London is on solid footing.
Ticket demand for track and field next summer has been overwhelming and it should be for 2017, too, in the Olympic Stadium when its size is reduced to about 60,000 seats.
Since 1999, only three editions of the biennial championships have been held in Western Europe. The next two -- Moscow in 2013 and Beijing in 2015 -- also skip the region.
Coe said it is also important to cement the legacy of the 2012 Olympics with a great follow-up event.