London countdown begins anew

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London 2012 organisers celebrated the two–year countdown to the Olympics during the last week in July 2010, and it would be churlish to deny there is plenty to celebrate, writes Rory Squires.

Under the gaze of the world's most critical press, with many waiting for the slightest slip–up, dissenting voices have been relatively subdued as the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) have quietly gone about their business. ODA chair John Armitt is confident organisers are making "strong progress", and few who have visited the Olympic Park in recent weeks could disagree. "There is still a long way to go and we are not complacent but the foundations for success are now in place, " Armitt added. From a commercial viewpoint, London 2012 has been a spectacular success so far. In fact, the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia has also generated superb commercial results to date, and with Procter & Gamble having signed up this week to be an International Olympic Committee (IOC) TOP sponsor for the next five editions of the Games, it is clear to see that the five rings continue to dazzle commercial entities in spite of the global financial downturn. London 2012 is in the final stages of a sponsorship programme that has raised more than £650m thanks to 34 sponsors and 36 licensees signing up so far. The domestic sponsorship and licensing budget is £700m, while London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton is hoping ticket sales will pull in at least £375m. Ticketing obviously represents a key source of income for the Olympics, but Deighton, who has built up a formidable collection of commercial partners in the midst of the downturn, is also saying the right things about getting bums on seats. The ticket prices will be announced this autumn and Deighton said that organisers wanted to ensure those on lower incomes would be able to enjoy the Games too. Organisers had said previously they cannot guarantee to honour their bid pledge to make the cheapest tickets available for £15, as low–demand sports baseball and softball are no longer on the Olympic programme. However, Deighton said: "There will be entry–level prices for many of the events which everyone will be able to afford. We already have more than 1. 4m people who have signed up to our ticket information site. "The 'Games Lanes' plan, referred to in a separate article in The Sport Briefing, is also an excellent idea and shows that London 2012 has listened and learned from the experiences of previous Games hosts to ensure competitors and officials can get to venues on time. Other possible issues, such as the IOC's insistence that other sporting events cannot take place in an Olympic host city during the Games, appear to be minor hurdles. Talks between London 2012 and the Premier League have been very positive so far and the Football League has already confirmed that it will delay the start of the 2012–13 season to accommodate the Olympics. The London Olympics organisers have also come out of the austerity drive with their reputations enhanced. With Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson having warned that the budget for the 2012 London Games, and particularly its contingency fund, is under discussion as part of this autumn's spending review by the UK Treasury, the announcement that the ODA had already sliced £700m from construction costs was impressive. The budget cuts are in many ways out of the control of the London 2012 Olympic stakeholders, although Robertson should think twice before ruling out a reduction of the security budget – a pot of money that many feel is unnecessarily bloated. Many expected the build–up to the London Games, and the construction work at the venues, to cause the same embarrassment as the Wembley Stadium development nightmare. Forget the predicted choppy waters though; there's not so much as a ripple as the London 2012 ship sails into harbour to complete its bricks and mortar preparations. However, aside from the tangible positives, there remains one glaring intangible unknown that needs to be addressed as soon as possible so it does not begin to overshadow all the good work being done in the city. Legacy was the bid team's key tagline for persuading IOC members to vote for the UK capital over Paris, Madrid, New York and Moscow in Singapore five years ago. As legacy is often intangible, and almost always unquantifiable before an event has happened, it can often become an easy get–out clause for event organisers that are struggling to keep to their budgets. Regardless of what is said by event organisers, many are wary of such legacy promises and predictions, particularly as the results could materialise in cultural changes that may not be seen for several years. However, the fact that the key symbol of London 2012's legacy drive – the London 2012 Olympic Stadium – still does not have its future mapped out beyond the conclusion of the Games, has to be a concern. Originally the Stadium was meant to be a permanent base for athletics as a reduced 25, 000–seat venue, but this was a clearly flawed idea for two reasons. Firstly, reducing the capacity from 80, 000 to 25, 000 would transform the venue from being the third biggest stadium in England to the 38th; this would seem on the surface to be a massive wasted opportunity for such a prime location. Secondly, athletics simply does not have the pulling power in the UK to justify having its own full–time home of that size in the capital. There is already a 25, 000–capacity athletics venue in Sheffield two hours north of London, and the operators of the Don Valley Stadium rent out the venue to a local football club. Now, with West Ham United of the English Premier League having declared its intention to move in, for some reason a number of stakeholders have been dragging their heels at the thought of a football club occupying the premises. West Ham has proposed a revamp costing £150m to £180m to reduce the capacity from 80, 000 to 60, 000, extend the roof and create a pitch, turnstiles, toilets and space for corporate hospitality after the Games. Other sports, such as athletics, cricket and rugby, could still be incorporated into the venue's calendar if West Ham moved in, and the local Newham Council is supporting the club's bid. Allowing West Ham to become the anchor tenant of the London Olympic Stadium would provide a "logical solution" to the question of what will happen to the venue after the 2012 Games, according to the club's vice–chair, Karren Brady. It is true that London's bid for the Olympics included the promise that a running track would be kept at the Stadium beyond the conclusion of the Games, and West Ham would want to rip that out. However, breaking a contract and breaking a promise are two different things. When money is tight and many are questioning whether the UK will really see a return on the £9. 3bn Olympic investment, surely the Olympic Park Legacy Company, which will make a decision on the Stadium by March 2011, needs to do what is in the best interests of sporting legacy in East London and the UK as a whole. By moving into the Olympic Stadium as the anchor tenant, West Ham would provide a regular income stream and pump money into the local economy. The club currently plays at the cramped and outdated Upton Park, which holds only 35, 000. The Olympic Park Legacy Company, which is considering a number of applications, should not see the act of handing the stadium to a football club as betraying the IOC. It is a reality of the event–hosting industry: organisers regularly break promises made by the bid teams. For example, the UK Government has had to defend itself on numerous occasions against accusations that it hid the true cost of the Olympics, despite the fact the budget has risen from £2. 4bn during the bid to £9. 3bn at present. The IOC is not going to take the Olympics away from London if a running track gets torn out of a stadium after the event has taken place. It would be far more important for those deciding the future of the Olympic Stadium to recognise that it would be a bigger crime to hold the venue back from fulfilling its huge potential as one of Europe's top sporting destinations. Above all, the Olympic Park Legacy Company must realise that if the Olympic Stadium becomes a white elephant like so many other spectacular venues at past Games, then the ambitious declarations of legacy pledged by London's bid team five years ago in Singapore will just look like a myth to the public at large. 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