Venues continue to worry London organisers

Last Updated: Tuesday, October 6, 2009 - 13:02

London: London 2012 Olympic organisers, worried about demands from sporting bodies and the need to cut costs in one of the severest economic downturns for decades, are still trying to decide where to house some sports for the Games.

Question marks hang over where boxing, badminton, shooting and rhythmic gymnastics will end up. Other sports have already had to be moved.
The cause of some of the changes stretches back to 2005 when London unexpectedly won the bid.

Then, the economy was booming but London now finds itself in a recession, saddled with over-ambitious legacy promises and over-optimistic costings which organisers are trying to scale back, experts say.

"They hadn`t really planned a bid on the basis that it would win, which means they developed a blue-sky project without really thinking what it would cost and when the harsh realities set in they`ve had to chop and change quite severely," Stefan Szymanski, professor of economics at Cass Business School, City University London, told Reuters.

The latest cost-cutting measure centres on proposals to ditch building the temporary North Greenwich Arena 2 near the Olympic Park in east London, saving 40 million pounds (USD 63.77 million), which would leave badminton and rhythmic gymnastics homeless and could displace boxing. A decision is expected soon.
With less than three years to go before the opening ceremony, one politician urged London organisers to settle matters swiftly and decisively.

"It is undoubtedly true that the dispute...has not been edifying and they need to take firm decisions and not pander to shouting from the touchline or indeed to international Olympic authorities and their demands to needlessly gold plate the arrangements," said Paul Farrelly, a member of the parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

While organisers failed to meet the International Olympic Committee`s (IOC) March deadline to settle all the venues, London is unlikely to see the last-minute panic of Athens 2004 as construction of all other venues is on track.

"This is the final, final decision. Everything else is locked down and I think we are simply in the process of trading off all the objectives across legacy, cost and sporting experience to come to the right answer," organising committee (LOCOG) chief executive Paul Deighton told Reuters.

"The fact that it has taken a while to resolve just reflects how carefully we are trying to make the decision properly."

The two homeless sports could go to the nearby, permanent ExCel site but that would mean moving boxing to make room, possibly to Wembley Arena, something the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) says would involve too much travelling across London.

Badminton England is against its sport moving to Wembley, in the north-west of the capital, for the same reason. Olympics minister Tessa Jowell has suggested building a new venue in Barking, east London, an area already earmarked for regeneration, and putting badminton there.

However, Mayor of London Boris Johnson wants to put shooting there, switching it from a military site in nearby Woolwich.

Other venues to have been scrapped with the aim of keeping within the overall 9.3-billion-pound (USD 14.85-billion) budget have included the temporary fencing arena, which had been earmarked for the Olympic Park but was moved to ExCel.

Many Olympic cities have been over-optimistic in their planning, with Athens and Montreal 1976 among the most high profile.

The main stadium in Athens was completed only two months before the opening ceremony, while Montreal did not get around to building its planned tower.

London has also been dealt some bad luck. It could not have foreseen that the world`s financial system would freeze up, stifling the flow of credit to its planned public/private projects and resulting in changes to the Olympic Village.

Organisers could not have anticipated either that fears over contamination of the waterways around the Olympic Park, a former industrial site, would force canoeing and kayak slalom events to be switched to Hertfordshire, north of London.

Nor could they have foreseen that mountain biking would have to move to a more difficult course, and shooting to a site nearer the Olympic Park for a more compact Games.

Many of the core venues, including the main stadium, aquatics centre and velodrome, as well as the media centre, had to be designed to incorporate legacy requirements.

Chris Gratton, director of the Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University, said if the legacy pushed up costs, perhaps the benefits would add up too.

He had a warning for Rio de Janeiro, which won the right on Friday to host the 2016 Games with the help of a passionate speech by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

"Politicians can help win the Games but once they are won you don`t want them involved," he said.

Bureau Report



First Published: Tuesday, October 6, 2009 - 13:02

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