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London 2012's 10 commandments

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Matt Slater | 18:30 UK time, Friday, 31 July 2009

"Seriously, how do you think we're doing?"

Tough question to dodge that, particularly over a meal you haven't paid for. And I've been asked it twice in the last fortnight by senior London 2012 staff. Luckily, for all concerned, it's not one I had to swerve as they are doing really rather well.

For evidence of this cast your mind back to Monday and the coverage they got for reaching the three-years-to-go mark without major mishap and getting a train to travel five miles in under seven minutes. Robert Stephenson's Rocket didn't get as much praise as Seb Coe's Javelin.

So well done, Locog/ODA, you've done a blinding far. There are plenty more fences to clear before you're home and hosed. Here are 10 of the biggest - feel free to scribble them down on post-it notes and scatter around the office.

Park strife

Four years into the project of converting a WWII bombsite into a venue for the world's greatest sports event/desirable place to live and work, nobody can fault what has been achieved. You started ahead of schedule and you've stayed ahead. The stadium is a familiar face on the skyline, the pool's signature roof is already legible and there are reassuring shapes been thrown all over the park.

London Mayor Boris Johnson and the Javelin train

But it still looks like Glastonbury after the crowds have left and you are still attempting to build at least half a dozen large structures on what was (for the most part) a contaminated, neglected and ignored 500-acre parcel of watery real estate. And if that's not hard enough, you're using umpteen different firms whilst observing the very greenest building standards. So let's have no resting on our spirit levels just yet.

Wembley no way

One of the reasons things have gone so swimmingly is that you've stuck to the script. By all means trim where possible but remember Wembley. Mess with the master plan at your peril. Unlike the Football Association, you can't stage the Games in Wales while you finish the plumbing.

Which brings me on to Wembley Arena and perhaps the most imminent of your headaches. Boxing isn't biting on the heritage hook and shows no inclination to swap its cosy corner of the ExCel Centre for the hard shoulder of the North Circular. You might have to build that £40m temporary venue in North Greenwich after all.

On the flipside, the original plan also called for equestrian in Greenwich Park and shooting at Woolwich Barracks. My advice would be to hold your horses and stick to your guns. These venues still make more sense than the alternatives (but only just in shooting's case) and should be left alone.

It's the economy, stupid

The general mood might be positive towards you at present but there are many who have not forgotten how the "public" budget went from a £2.4bn guesstimate to a £9.3bn line in the sand in less than the two years. Add to that the fact the economy fell off a cliff last year and you're looking at "the toughest time - short of wartime - to get the project to 2012".

To your credit, the budget is still £9.3bn, which is good as you aren't getting any more, and you secured most of your sponsorship cash before the market went belly up. But as your City-schooled chief exec Paul Deighton will know GB plc isn't out of the woods yet and deals can be broken. In fact, you've already had to rip up one yourselves, swapping Nortel for Cisco. That bit of peace of mind cost £15m but will prove cheap at half the price if the intraweb works in 2012.

So be prepared for more contractual wrangling particularly as you add the less lucrative but vital value-in-kind partners who provide all the free hotel rooms, bottled water and leisurewear that make any global event possible.

Strange bedfellows

Here's something your predecessors in Beijing didn't have to worry about: elections.

Tessa Jowell and Seb Coe behind a blurred Ken Livingstone

The team has already lost two of its star players, with Tony Blair leaving Number 10 and Ken Livingstone losing City Hall, but the Olympic project remained on track thanks to the continuity supplied by those who remained and those who replaced them. Gordon Brown swapped his Treasury scepticism for Blair-like enthusiasm when he took the top job, and Boris Johnson brought a showman's grasp of the big occasion to compensate for losing Livingstone's eye for redevelopment detail.

Brown, of course, is now vulnerable himself, as is his underrated Olympic Minister Tessa Jowell. Their likely replacements are unlikely to tear up the cross-bench consensus that has prevailed but a hung parliament could make things interesting.

Managing all this will be a big job for your Fab Four of John Armitt, Coe, Deighton and David Higgins, but it is not a new or necessarily disastrous predicament, as Sydney 2000 demonstrated.

Party politics

Assuming all goes smoothly on the domestic front, you will still need to keep a close eye on foreign affairs and the key relationship is with the court of Jacques Rogge. Never forget that when push comes to shove this is the International Olympic Committee's party - they pick the guest list, music and parlour games.

But the IOC is well aware of the financial constraints you're working under and wants you to succeed (they know London 2012 is a better model for the future of the Games than Beijing 2008). Use this to your advantage, particularly when dealing with the 26 international federations that represent the Olympic sports.

At the moment, Rogge is loving your work. Keep it this way and everything gets much easier.

Build the field and they will come

You may have three years until the opening ceremony but you've only got two years to finish the buildings if you're going to give yourselves time to test the bars, loos and press facilities (particularly important, that last one). Previous hosts have failed to do this and taken years off lives as a result.

And there is another reason to push on with the building work. Just think how much easier it will be to sell tickets in 2011 if the venues are open for business. Hit the ground running on tickets and you can concentrate on how to keep the venues full during the Games themselves - something Beijing failed to do - and create a festival atmosphere around the country.

A good time is a safe time

If there is one thing guaranteed to ruin all your hard work it is a terrorist attack. Previous Games have been scarred by violence, most notably Munich in 1972, and the positive vibes associated with London's bid victory in 2005 were only 24 hours old before the 7/7 bombings brought everybody crashing down again.

This is a massive challenge, and not your sole responsibility, but as the public face of the Games the onus is on you to make sure everything that can be done is being done.

By jingo, we've won it!

Christine Ohuruogu celebrates her 400m gold in Beijing

Another truism of Olympic history is that a successful Games for the host nation is usually a successful Games, full stop. Nothing packs them in and keeps them cheering better than a parade of home-grown heroes. The TV pictures look better too.

Now it's not your job to gerrymander this but nobody will thank you if we stage the best Olympics of all time but come 36th in the medal table. We could have gone back to Atlanta for that. So push on with your preparations but keep Team GB's main stakeholders in the loop.

Bricks and mortar

While 9 September 2012 will see the end of the Paralympics and seven years of hard work, it will not close the book on London 2012. That will only happen when every building you leave behind has become somebody's home, be it a regular Londoner, an aspiring athlete or a thriving industry.

We know we would not have even bid for the Games - let alone win them - if we had not hitched a long overdue redevelopment project to the Olympic wagon, but that will look like a Faustian pact if the Olympic Stadium is padlocked and peeling a year down the line. Get this right and you should be able to about 2032.

Sport for all

If you can stage a great Games and leave London a little better off then you all deserve long holidays on islands in the sun. If you can stage a great Games, leave London a little better off AND persuade people to get off the sofa and back into sport, you deserve the islands in the sun.

A cynic will point out that no Olympic host has ever managed this before. A believer will counter that few have really tried. Some things are certain, you will not pull this off on your own and you will have to share credit if it works and take sole responsibility if it fails. Them's the breaks.

But a fitter, happier, healthier Britain would be a legacy of genuinely Olympic proportions. Good luck.

* As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about on Twitter


  • Comment number 1.

    After the fiasco that was wembley, this does give us hope.
    Very, very well written blog by the way, interesting AND positive.
    Are you sure the bbc employ you?
    Hope GazUtd & co read this - I'm more an admirer of their input than the actual bloggers!

  • Comment number 2.

    any pics of the current build status of the stadium?

  • Comment number 3.

    really enjoyable read this things seem to be looking really positive and very well balanced arguement, great stuff :-)

  • Comment number 4.

    Morning all, thanks for the comments, much appreciated.

    wms-y-shec and micky_owen, you're right, I think things are looking really positive for 2012.

    In fact, I sometimes worry I'm being too positive about the progress being made (and not journalistically tough enough on them) because I want the Games to succeed. But then I read some of the knocking stuff in the press, the old-fashioned NIMBYism and the Daily Mail-style scare stories I think it's about time somebody other than London 2012/government staff banged the drum for the Games. We have horrible habit in this country of talking ourselves down and lowering our ambitions.

    Anyway, I was trying to get all this across without ignoring/downplaying the size of the task ahead. Glad to hear you two liked it.

    PAOlOofE$$EX (great name, btw), there are some good webcams on the official site:

    And as you're local, I would recommend the London Overground line between Stratford and Hackney Wick - the best and cheapest 2-min tour of the park available. You get great views of the stadium looking east from the middle of Victoria Park too.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Matt,

    I really liked this blog. Last summer I did my dissertation on the 2012 Games and found that the task facing London was a major one. But this was before the economic crash, so it has obviously grown significantly since then.

    I think the point you make about redeveloping the Olympic sites and putting them to use after the Games is particularly important - you only had to look at the legacy of Athens to see what can happen when you don't plan beyond the closing ceremony.

    Thankfully, I think the committee has had its head screwed on from day one - barring the ambitious costing projections - and I'm confident we are in a good position to host a great Games.

    However, time flies, and they cannot afford to rest on their laurels as when things go wrong they can quickly snowball.

    PS. I'd be interested to know what you think is the most challenging issue still facing the 2012 Games.


  • Comment number 6.

    Matt, as far as the Olympics themselves are concerned, everything is looking very very positive and I believe we will host an outstanding games and good luck to everyone involved.

    What though comes after?

    One of the very noticeable things is the number of sport related jobs that are about that are funded until summer 2012. What happens post Olympics when this funding seems to run out?

    Another trend is the elite-isation of sport. Certainly in diving we are seeing this - most of the newer centres - Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Southampton - do not allow the public to get any opportunity to try diving - the governing body doesn't get involved - they don't seem to care- so, the only way to even try the sport is to get on the lesson programme (if you can afford it)
    Even then, because of the dearth of facilities around the country there are no alternatives so all of the existing clubs and centres are full. The pressure to show results for funding is also squeezing out those that want to do the sport for something other than potential Olympic hopefuls. Adults especially are being squeezed out - we have seen three major diving centres make it impossible to adults to continue over the last few years reversing the trend which had seen 'Masters' diving growing at a good pace since the 1990's.
    Add in to this a new 'coaching' qualification which is prohibitively expensive and you have an escalating problem with grass roots diving in the UK.
    But of course i'm talking rubbish as Tom Daley has just become world champion - and we shouldn't mention that he lives just along the road from one of only 4 places in the country where he could have got into diving and realised his potential!

    To look at the lack of diving and the losses have a look at

  • Comment number 7.

    Rembrantquenstein, glad you liked it.

    To answer your question about the biggest challenge still facing London 2012's organisers, I think it's making the whole experience fan-friendly, so there is a real buzz around the park and a party atmosphere up and down the country. That means getting all ticketing, transport and security issues completely nailed down. Ticketing is a nightmare for all hosts as they must keep so many different groups happy (IOC, International Feds, global sponsors, local sponsors, media and then, finally, the paying public).

    The biggest challenge for the London 2012 project in general - so not just Locog - is delivering on that boosting participation promise. The evidence from previous OGs/big sports events isn't very encouraging at all but it is a key legacy pledge for 2012 (both internally to UK tax-payers and externally to the IOC and IFs). Pull it off and British sport will be held up as a glowing example in same way Aussie sport gained universal praise post-2000.

    Hi diverjohn46, you're right to point out that the situation is going to be very different for elite sport in this country post 2012....I think most people involved know the cash isn't going to keep rolling in from Government and they will have to stand on their own two feet if they wish to continue with the same levels of expenditure.

    This, however, need not be a disaster if sports start to think about post-London life NOW and plan accordingly. And part of that plan should be how they intend to make the most of these next few years and the Games themselves. In many ways, the onus should be on the sports. There is no point moaning about a lack of public investment (which is true and has been going on for decades and decades) when there public investment has finally arrived. Do something with it while it's here!

    Now I know you feel very strongly about the facilities situation with your sport. And it is clearly a problem. But it is what it is and it's been like this for years.

    Are you suggesting we should not stage things like the OG so we can build more diving pools? Because if you are I think you're missing the point of what the Games can do for all British sport in terms of creating role models/inspiration/coaching/media profile etc etc These are the 'soft' legacy benefits and they could be immense.

    I also think you're missing the point of what somebody like Tom Daley can do for your sport. OK, he was lucky in terms of where he lived. But that's about the only advantage he had. Everything else he's achieved he's worked for. That is such a powerful message and I guarantee there will be kids (and a few adults) inspired to seek out the sport and take it up because of him. And then the buzz that creates might just lead to a few more pools being built or reopened.

    I know I quote the Field of Dreams above with my "build the field and they will come" reference but most of the evidence suggests that isn't true. Ask any leading sports person what inspired them to take up their sport and they will not it was the amazing facility down the road. They will say it was watching so and so win when they were kids, or maybe the coach they had when played the sport for the first time.

    We know our facilities probably aren't up to scratch across a whole range of sports but recent results in cycling, swimming and even diving suggest that talent, effort and good coaching can make up for that.


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