POSTED: July 13th 2010

NEIL WILSON: Almost too good to be true for fast-learning London

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

LONDON, Jul 13: Jacques Rogge screwing into place seat 2012 in the Olympic Stadium during the IOC coordinating commission’s latest visit to London was a photo opportunity that paid off for LOCOG.  For its true significance we had to wait a further three days.

It was Dennis Oswald, the commission chairman, who made the point perfectly long after Rogge had departed the city. “I screwed into place the seat 2004 in Athens. The only difference was that it was three weeks before the opening ceremony,” said the Swiss IOC member.

A difference of precisely two years, a measure of London’s progress. London celebrates passing the two-years-to-go milestone on July 27, 21 days after Rogge’s visit to the stadium. And London’s progress, on schedule and on budget, is not the only difference with past Games.

Missing from the London Games to date is controversy. Localised grumbling over compulsory land purchasing.  A minor outbreak of scorn when it announced its logo. Another for the announcement of its mascots. None amounted to more than few-day wonders.

“We must be the most boring organizing committee ever and we are proud of it,” British IOC member Craig Reedie said to me."

When London bid to host the Games, the threat of Fleet Street’s finest turning over every stone for the next seven years to find detritus was said to worry IOC members. The same has been said against England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup.

Track records

But do the job well and Britain’s Fourth Estate recognizes it. Nothing but praise, for instance, when LOCOG announced the names of those producing and directing its opening ceremonies, and got it right. Big names with proven records.

There is time yet for the Daily Beasts to turn vicious.

Ticketing is a potential problem to come early next year. Two-thirds of the money which LOCOG still has to raise will come from this source. The temptation will be to increase the number of high-priced seats. Sydney’s ticket distribution caused outcry there.

“Broadly accessible and attractively priced,” is chief executive Paul Deighton’s promise. “You won’t be disappointed,” he said of the announcement early next year. Wimbledon-style re-sale of tickets left by spectators leaving early is planned.

Another pratfall could be transport. The IOC has accepted that a city with narrow streets like London cannot offer Olympic lanes as widely as Beijing did but competitors late for events, as they were in Atlanta, would be disastrous.

Ways to speed the movement of traffic in other ways are being considered. Temporary pedestrian bridges may be built to cut down on traffic lights.  Spectators will be encouraged to use only public transport by the inclusion of the fare in the ticket price.

But if London continues to dodge the obvious elephant traps, it will owe Sydney, Athens and Beijing a debt. It has learned well from their mistakes and controversies.

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books

Keywords · Neil Wilson · LOCOG · IOC · Coe · Oswald · Rogge · Deighton

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