So we won! Now the hard work begins in preparation for London’s Olympics in 2012. As regular readers of my articles will know I am a great sports fan. There is nothing that we sport-followers enjoy more than seeing the underdog beat the favourite (especially if it is the French).
I am the first to admit that I believed we had little chance a year ago and I am delighted, if a little shocked, to have been proved so wrong. This triumph is down to a tremendous effort by Lord Coe and his team, the government and the all-party support it received and I believe that Bob Geldof should bask in some of the glory, because the global media coverage of the Live8 concert could not have been better timed for the London Bid.
From the centre of our Capital city I watched the momentum of our bid grow by the valuable use of our recognised world sporting champions and Paralympic champions who, every time I saw them on the television, spoke with compelling passion about the games coming to London.
My passionate interest in sport means that from my earliest years I watched the black and white pictures from London’s last Olympic Games in 1948 and the name of Fanny Blankers-Koen is etched on my memory while watching re-runs of that marvellous Dutch lady win four gold medals in athletics. The Olympics is now so different from those far off days with a range of sports undreamt of almost sixty years ago. The other major difference concerns the money involved.
Many Londoners are very concerned about the notion of a blank cheque being signed by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, for the cost of the games because they know the likely cost over-runs will fall on their heads.
Last year I surveyed my constituents about London’s Olympic Bid and the responses showed much anxiety about the funding of both the Bid and the Games themselves should we win. More than 50% were against London hosting the Games, 40% were in favour with 10% undecided. Almost all those against any such bid saw the costs outweighing any benefits.
There was little indication in the lead-up to the bid that central Government is going to stump up the tab for what is a national, rather than just a London, Olympic Games. It has been estimated by the Greater London Authority that the virtually uncapped liabilities could run to £30 per annum for every Londoner for a generation to come. Indeed, there is no real sense that the event will be kept within budget, and history suggests that all Olympic Games?except for those that took place in the United States in 1984 and 1996?have been massively hit by cost over-runs.
One of the other concerns I have as a London Member of Parliament is that other regeneration projects in the capital have been left on hold to a large extent while the furore surrounding the Olympic bid has taken place. In particular, some important regeneration in the King’s Cross area has effectively been put on hold for the past 18 months or so. The Crossrail debate will begin in earnest again and clearly there is still much concern about the funding of London’s Tube infrastructure which continues to fail to meet its performance targets. Similarly the work on the Thames Gateway development will surely now have to wait.
Now that London has won the bid the Government must urgently ensure that the capital city receives its fair share of resources if this bid is not to have all the makings of another national embarrassment.
Beijing will host the next games and now that we have won the right to host the Olympics in 2012 I would expect this to be the last time a European country hosts the games till 2024 at the very least. The visitors from Europe, let alone the rest of the world, will therefore be vast and the benefits to London’s economy must be extensive. Truly we are recognised as one of the leading global cities and this further boost to London’s prestige is a reflection of that fact.
Throughout history we have shown that we are extremely capable at organising the very big events – it is the smaller ones such as the recent Millennium Dome, Wembley Stadium and Picketts Lock fiascos which did not show this country in the best light. Well there is nothing much bigger than the Olympic Games and I believe we will again show our true colours.
I am already looking forward to it but will continue to fight hard that London’s Mayor does not get any ideas to mis-use the Royal Parks for any additional events nor to use central London as a racetrack for motor cars.
The next seven years should not be a time for grandstanding by politicians but a time for ensuring that we have the funding and infrastructure in place to make London’s Olympic Games the most memorable so far of the twenty-first century.