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London 2012 starts to feel the pinch

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Mihir Bose | 09:58 UK time, Thursday, 2 October 2008

The British government may have to step in and guarantee bank loans for developers if enough funding is to be raised for the construction of major Olympic projects in 2012, such as the Olympic Village and the broadcast and media centres. The original plan was for such projects to be funded in the main by developers, but the banking collapse has made things immensely difficult.

Back in July, just before the Beijing Olympics and despite the gathering economic clouds, I was confidently told that the funding for the Village would be in place by August. Now it is clear that such plans are not ready and the developers will only be granted bank loans if they are underwritten by the government, making it the lender of last resort. It is worth knowing that the government has already pledged extra funding of its own, committing an additional £250m for the building of the Village.

The impact of the credit crunch on 2012 will figure much when the Olympic Board holds its first meeting since the Beijing Games in London on Thursday. The Board brings together all the stakeholders in the Olympic project - the government, the 2012 organising committee, the Olympic Delivery Authority, who are responsible for constructing the venues, the London Mayor and the British Olympic Association. However, with some key people missing for various reasons, no hard decisions are likely to be taken.

The agenda is said to be light but the meeting will provide a forum for discussion on cost cutting, perhaps by moving venues, as well as the Games' much advertised legacy. Consultants KPMG have been looking at three venues - shooting, equestrianism and basketball - to see if they could they be moved in order to cut costs. Could, for instance, the shooting competition move back to Bisley?

The original London bid did say shooting would be staged there. But, after coming a poor third to Paris and Madrid when the shortlist for 2012, London was advised by the International Olympic Committee that it stood a better chance if its bid was more compact, with more venues in and around the Olympic Park. While Bisley has its advocates, money would still need to be spent getting it ready. And the view is that such an initiative is unlikely to prove cost effective. The same goes for plans to relocate the equestrianism or basketball venues. In any case, such moves would have to be agreed by the IOC and the relevant international federations.

Tessa Sanderson won javelin gold at the Los Angeles Games in 1984

The question of legacy is, in many ways, the trickiest issue and greatly concerns London Mayor Boris Johnson. Legacy came up for discussion, albeit rather curiously, when Johnson, who has announced a 10-member legacy team that includes Olympic gold medallist Tessa Sanderson, met his Beijing counterpart during the Paralympics. I am told the Chinese started by asking Johnson what sort of contracts they might be able to bid for in London. Johnson told them many of the 2012 contracts had already gone but there might be scope in other projects, such as Crossrail or his proposed new airport plans. Talk then turned to the use of the broadcast and media centres after the Games, with the Chinese suggesting they might quite like to set up a university there. Further talks are expected when the Chinese visit London in November.

Use of venues after the Games is only one part of the London legacy. Just as important, if not more so, is the message London will send out, not only to this country but to the world, when it becomes the first city to host the Games for the third time. In 1908 and 1948, it could be said that Britain came to the rescue of the Olympic movement, as nobody else was then in a position to stage the Games. But in 2012, Britain has, as Lord Seb Coe put it, promised to teach the youth of the world what sport can do.

While the Paris video presentation to the IOC featured actress Catherine Deneuve, London opted for a narrative. It showed youths in bleak African townships forsaking their destructive behaviour in order to take up sport, inspired by watching the London Games on television. The message was clear: London 2012 would be global and have a 21st-century sporting message. London needs to articulate that message and articulate it quickly.


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