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The Royal Plan
Mike Shropshire
November 04, 2002
Prince Albert's dream is to make Monaco a mini center for world sports—including pro football
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November 04, 2002

The Royal Plan

Prince Albert's dream is to make Monaco a mini center for world sports—including pro football

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Crowning Success
While Monaco is trying to land an NFL Europe team, it already hosts a number of high-profile teams and events.

A.S. Monaco FC pro soccer team of the French League

Senior ATP Tamoil Legends of Monaco tournament

G.IN Monte Carlo Invitational pro-celebrity PGA event

Monaco Grand Prix auto race

The crown prince sits in his office in a spacious room in the Palace of Monaco, which is housed in a building that rests atop a foundation that was laid around 1215. Despite the medieval grandeur of this setting, the artifacts and mementos that clutter the office seem more appropriate for a U.S. sports bar than the sanctuary of royalty. Here's a photo of Prince Albert fencing. Here's a certificate confirming his proficiency in jujitsu, another in scuba diving, another in marksmanship. Here's a photo of the prince piloting a bobsled in the Calgary Olympic Games, and here's another picture of him driving a Mitsubishi as it crashes through a gully during the Paris-Dakar rally. His inventory of sports collectibles includes torches used in nearly every modern Olympics.

Perhaps it is natural that given his obsession with the sporting life Prince Albert has a plan, an ambition if not a goal, that his homeland, which is renowned as a world headquarters for glamour, should function as something larger than a play yard for the rich. He spreads his hands, smiles and declares his vision: "A mini center for world sports! And to a certain extent, it already is."

He points out that discussions with the NFL to bring an NFL Europe franchise here are ongoing. That potential club, the Monte Carlo Pirates, would perform in the slick Stade Louis II (capacity 20,000-plus), home base of Monaco's professional soccer team, which competes in the top division of the French League. In 2000 the principality opened a glitzy, glass-exteriored convention center, the Grimaldi Forum (named after the family that established Monaco's existing monarchy), that is large enough for any indoor event. The Senior ATP Tamoil Legends of Monaco tournament will take place there this month, featuring Bjorn Borg, Pat Cash, Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte. Prince Albert is pleased to be serving as John McEnroe's doubles partner in a pretournament celebrity event. "John might want to watch his back," cautions the prince. "When I get mad, I'm known to be a racket slinger."

Development of these projects is coordinated through a company known as Monte Carlo Entertainment, whose top officials include an American in Monaco, Mike Powers, a restauranteur whose mother was friends with Prince Albert's mom, movie star Grace Kelly, and who serves as founder and president. (The company's partner is Paul Anka's daughter Alex, a lawyer who met Powers through a friend.) "Our aim is simple: to make Monaco the hub of international sports," says Powers. "Prince Albert is not connected to the company in an official capacity—he does not want to be seen as a full-time pro sports promoter—but he lends considerable personal support to our efforts to bring these kinds of events to Monaco, particularly if it's a charity-related one. The G.IN Monte Carlo Invitational golf tournament, a European PGA-sanctioned seniors event, is a good example. Most of the celebrities in the pro-am came here because of Prince Albert. Also, as part of the golf extravaganza, we were able to construct a par-3 hole, with tee, sand trap and green, right in the plaza in front of the casino, the premier location in all of Monte Carlo, and practically on the front steps of the Hotel de Paris. Let me say that getting the approval for a project like that would not have been possible without the support of the palace. And as a result [of holding the tournament], we'll raise close to $1 million for a 9/11 memorial.

"Now we're going after a basketball event involving Olympic national teams that is known as the European Final Four," Powers continues. "It lost its sponsorship in Paris. And I think the day will come when we'll see a heavyweight title match in Monaco. Imagine what that ringside will look like."

While Powers discusses the game plan for sports in Monaco, it's a typical day in the life of Prince Albert. He finds himself on a breathtaking alpine golf course with Julius Erving, a family friend who is in town to participate in that G.IN golf event. Erving glances over at Prince Albert, who is standing beneath a tent canopy with another ardent amateur linkster, Cheryl Ladd. "I've experienced some playoff pressure in the NBA, but there's a guy who's under some real pressure," says Erving. "He's 44, and the world expects him to get married and produce a son, and do it pretty soon."

Sitting in his palace office, the same one that his late mother had occupied, the prince seems happy to discuss that topic. "There was a misunderstanding that my father has insisted that this should be a priority. That is not correct. There is no timetable or deadline for me to get married and have a son—although I guess it's about time for me to go to work on that. But I don't want to make a mistake. The perception is that I prefer blondes. That's not true, not entirely. Physical beauty is important. But of course there's more. You see a lovely package, but you have to unwrap it to discover what's inside."

Since the most popular sport among the women who prowl the beaches of the Cote d'Azur is beau hunting, it's fascinating to witness the interchange that takes place at the highest level of competition. At a champagne reception on the roof of Monte Carlo's Caf� de Paris, a woman with ash-blonde hair and large emerald eyes and clad in leather pants with a six-inch-wide sash of diamonds around her midriff has gained an introduction to Prince Albert. The game is on. Because of the recession of Prince Albert's hairline, he may no longer qualify to play James Bond. Still, there is a je ne sais quoi about him. The prince gazes directly into the woman's eyes. She gazes back, thinking that if this works out, she might spend the rest of her life in the pages of PEOPLE magazine. They converse in whispers. But now the woman senses that the connection isn't happening. Her proud posture slumps ever so slightly Then the prince shakes her hand—"enjoyed meeting you"—and walks on. She's stunned. KO'd.

Chris Le Vine, the prince's first cousin, watches from a distance, in high amusement, and intones, "and down goes FRA-zah! Down goes FRA-zah!" He's seen this ritual many times.

If any person knows the prince, it is Le Vine, who is a year older than Albert. His mother was Grace Kelly's sister. "To understand Albert, it is important to realize that the Kelly factor was the significant factor in shaping his life. Our grandfather—the family called him Pa—prevails as such an overwhelming influence in our lives."

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