Wales politics

Olympics 'Land of Song' plans dropped in funding wrangle

The Millennium Stadium
Image caption The Millennium Stadium hosted the first Olympics football match

Plans for a singing extravaganza to kick off the opening event of the Olympics were dropped amid wrangling over funding, BBC Wales can reveal.

Emails show First Minister Carwyn Jones was concerned about Olympics football starting in Cardiff "with nothing other than a referee's whistle".

A marching choir and a concert at the Millennium Stadium were proposed as a way to "put Wales on the map".

Mr Jones complained about an "unhelpful" response from London 2012.

The first competitive sports event of the Games started in Cardiff on 25 July, two days before the Olympics opening ceremony in London, when Great Britain's women's football team played New Zealand.

Documents released after a freedom of information request show politicians and officials discussed pre-match entertainment, tickets, whether the Welsh flag would fly above the stadium, and Welsh players picked for Team GB.

'Big Sing'

Welsh National Opera (WNO) drew up plans for an Olympic Marching Choir. Open to anyone who wanted to participate, it was intended to show that "singing is a national sport in Wales" by getting 1,000 people marching across Wales.

But in an email sent in January, the WNO said it could not proceed because Games organisers Locog were unable to make a decision about funding until the following month.

Image caption Officials discussed including Bryn Terfel in the pre-Olympic line-up

Another exchange of emails discusses a WNO idea called "Big Sing on the Pitch".

Choirs and school children would have performed traditional Welsh songs and a specially commissioned song before the match and at half time. It would have been screened at sites around Wales by the BBC.

A draft proposal suggests trying to include Welsh stars such as Bryn Terfel and the Manic Street Preachers in the line-up.

The Welsh government was prepared to spend £150,000 and hoped to secure another £100,000 from Locog

But in an email on 27 April, the head of the Welsh government's major events unit said WNO chair Geraint Talfan Davies has decided to pull out.

The email cited "not at any stage being made to feel welcome or wanted by Locog" and a lack of time.

First Minister Carwyn Jones raised the "unhelpful Locog response" at a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in May.

A senior official in the Welsh government said the First Minister was concerned "about not marking the GB v New Zealand women's football match, the opening event of the Olympics, with nothing other than a referee's whistle".

A further proposal for a sound and light show at the stadium also did not happen.

The first minister later wrote to Locog chairman Lord Coe to clarify whether the Welsh flag would fly above the stadium throughout the Games.

He said: "As I am sure you are aware, the Welsh government and our partners at the Millennium Stadium, despite our best efforts, have been unable to establish a partnership with Locog to deliver a compelling pre-match attraction for the live and television audiences watching Olympic football in Cardiff.

"While this is a matter of some considerable regret, I am very anxious to ensure that our most iconic Welsh sporting arena is clearly identifiable as such during the Games."

In a statement, Mr Talfan Davies said: "It is true that WNO was very keen to take part in this first event in the Olympic schedule, and we were disappointed that it did not prove possible to come to a positive decision in time to allow us to make a quality contribution in what is a very busy period of the year for us.

"We share everyone's delight that both the Olympics and the Cultural Olympiad have been such an outstanding success."

A Welsh government spokesman said: "We were delighted to stage the first event of London 2012 and worked very closely with Locog to ensure these matches were an outstanding success."

A Locog spokesman said: "We had constructive relationships with all of the host cities for the football tournament and there would have been conversations about several different projects in each city to celebrate the Games.

"Such is the nature of the Olympic Games, some projects may not have made it across the finishing line.

"We were thrilled with the way Cardiff embraced the football tournament, helping us to host a fantastic Olympic Games this summer."

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