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Euphoria replaced by reality over London 2012

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Nov 23: One British newspaper today quoted a remark made by Prime Minister Tony Blair to London Mayor Ken Livingstone that ''everyone would say 'fantastic' when we won the Olympics, then you'd have six years of complaining.'' In the light of events over the last few months, Blair's observation neatly sums up London's early progress towards delivering its promises for the 2012 sporting festival.

The slick presentation that won over IOC members in Singapore in July last year, the talk of sporting legacy and regeneration and the ''best Games ever'' created an initial sense of euphoria not even the terrorist outrages the following day could dampen.

Sixteen months on, however, and the reality of the huge task faced by the London 2012 organising committee (LOCOG) and its partners is really hitting home.

Resignation of a key figure, public mud-slinging, political squabbling and alarming newspaper headlines about spiralling costs have given plenty of ammunition to feed the cynical underbelly of a British public.

Memories of the Millennium Dome white elephant, the Picketts Lock world athletics championships fiasco and the much-delayed Wembley Stadium completion, meant the honeymoon period for LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe was always going to be a short one.

Until the October resignation of American businessman Jack Lemley as chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), however, London 2012 had been relatively trouble-free.

SUDDEN EXIT

 Lemley's sudden exit, less than a year after he was trumpeted by Olympic Minister Tessa Jowell as the man to oversee the building of the Olympic Park, appears to have opened a can of worms.

Just weeks after he said the reasons for his leaving were to spend more time on his business interests in America, the 71-year-old told the Idaho Statesman newspaper that the real reasons were a lack of progress with the London project, concerns about budgets and timescales and political squabbling.

''I went there to build things, not to sit and talk,'' Lemley said. ''I thought it best to leave the post and come home.'' A day later Scotland Yard chief Ian Blair said the 2012 Olympics would be ''a huge'' target for terrorists.

In the same week the government's sports minister Richard Caborn said Premier League football club West Ham United were in serious talks about moving into the Olympic stadium after the Games, raising concerns in the IAAF over London's bid promise to retain the stadium as an athletics facility.

ENCOURAGING NOISES

 Despite encouraging noises coming from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who according to Jowell feel that London is ''substantially ahead'' of other host cities at a similar stage, the negative headlines continued. Money reared its ugly head with the news that London organisers faced a one billion pounds tax bill because VAT had not been factored in to the original 2.4 billion budget.

It soon became clear that the budget was far from set in stone and the VAT bombshell was followed by an admission from the ODA's acting chairman Roy McNulty that the cost of hosting the Games would rise significantly.

McNulty cited extra security requirements and increased costs of regenerating the site of the Olympic park in east London while it was also revealed that the Treasury wanted a 60 per cent contingency fund to cover rising expenditure.

Mayor Livingstone said he would veto any such contingency fund saying it would give developers ''a green light to screw up'' while headlines quoting final budgets of up to 10 billion pounds have severely undermined public confidence.

RISING PRICES

 Earlier this week, Jowell admitted the cost of simply building the Olympic park and facilities had already soared by 900,000 pounds to 3.3 billion, blaming rising steel and transport prices.

Livingstone added to the sense of confusion when he told BBC radio ''nothing's a mess'' and that the Games would make a profit, apparently contradicting Jowell.

The ODA, meeanwhile, will re-submit its revised Games budget early in 2007.

Coe has distanced himself from the rows over budgets and claims that rising costs are ''inevitable'' for a project that will regenerate a huge swathe of east London, provide up to 40,000 new homes and leave long-lasting benefits.

The chief executive of the ODA, David Higgins, who was also involved with the Sydney Olympics, has hit back at raft of negative media coverage, saying this week that London would witness the biggest regeneration project in Europe and that London 2012 would be remembered as the 'Regeneration Games'.

The ODA also announced that work to clean up the Olympic site, still dotted with unexploded World War II bombs, would begin a month ahead of schedule in December.

London's progress will no doubt be a hot topic at the IOC's Executive Board meetings in Kuwait next week and some praise from president Jacques Rogge would be a shot in the arm.

However, until the gleaming new sports facilities start springing up in the wastelands of east London, 2012 organisers can only batten down the hatches and ride out thestorm.

Reuters

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