London 2012: Warming up for the Olympics

Winning the bid for 2012 was only the beginning - now venues across the UK must raise their game. Lorraine Francisco reports.

Few people could have missed the announcement on 6 July of London's successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics, beating off tough competition from Paris, New York, Madrid and Moscow. But now the dream has become a reality, what lies ahead for the UK events industry and UK tourism as a whole?

Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre (SCEC) was a host venue for Sydney 2000, and director of marketing and sales Amanda Anker has fond memories of the opportunities the event afforded the city. "Hosting the Games bolstered Sydney's international image," she says. "It gave us a unique opportunity to show millions of people worldwide that Sydney is beautiful, and above all that our events industry is extremely professional. Our role as host city helped us secure many international meetings both before and after the year 2000. No doubt London will see the same impact."

Anker's prediction could well be correct, and many of the Olympic venues in the UK are indeed adopting a positive attitude. Wembley Stadium will host the Games' football events within the newly refurbished arena, and Wembley director of sales and marketing Peter Tudor is clearly relishing the prospect for the entire capital. "We are already world leaders in event organisation, planning and logistics, with internationally acclaimed venues and facilities," he says. "Now we have a unique opportunity to mark out that territory in front of the whole world. It's up to each of us to grab it and make the 2012 Games a showcase for everything that's best about our industry."

Another positive factor of hosting the Games is the legacy it will leave behind, inevitably boosting UK tourism. Excel London chief executive Jamie Buchan comments that Sydney saw a major growth in international conferences and exhibitions before and after the Games, greatly enhancing its business profile.

This opinion is shared across the events industry, with those in the tourism sector also awaiting the boost such an event will bring to the UK. Visit London commercial director David Hornby says: "For the past two-and-a-half years, and for the first time in ten years, London has started to earn back its world share of tourism, so we're on the up, and I think it will only benefit tourism as a whole. I think the Olympics will relaunch London and put it in the world's eye."

However, not everyone thinks the benefits will come quite so easily.

Moving Venue Management managing director Richard Beggs warns that tourism will only be boosted if London delivers the greatest-ever Games. "As long as we achieve that, tourism will see a huge surge after the Olympics," he says. "Having beach volleyball on Horseguards Parade in Whitehall will show a contemporary sport in a very traditional, architecturally beautiful environment, inspiring tourists to come here."

The Olympics will not only mean good business for the UK but the investment in the capital's infrastructure will leave a legacy long after the Games has finished. The regeneration of a number of areas, including the East End, and improved transport links, will benefit not just the visiting masses but also those who live in the area. Visit London's Hornby describes the regeneration as creating a "city within a city".

Royal Horticultural Halls managing director Rene Dee emphasises that the regeneration of the East End and the refurbishment of other facilities, including Wembley and The O2 (formerly The Dome), have to be sustained after the Olympics to ensure that London is portrayed as a world-leading host city for events in the future.

SCEC's Anker found the changes to Sydney prior to 2000 produced invaluable benefits. "The Olympics presents a fantastic opportunity to upgrade a city's infrastructure and iron out any problems that may otherwise be put in the 'too hard' basket," she says. "In Sydney we now reap the benefits of a wide range of work undertaken prior to the Olympics, including improvements to our public transport system, the opening of some magnificent hotels and the beautification of many public areas."

The main UK Olympic Park will be in Stratford, east London, with international transport links via the Eurostar due to open in 2007. Fencing, hockey, swimming and cycling will all be based at the Olympic park, and it is hoped that the Aquatic Centre, which is due to open in three years' time, will sustain public interest in the park during the next seven years.

The newly refurbished 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium, scheduled to host the FA Cup final next year, is the venue for the Olympic men's and women's football finals. "Wembley Stadium has shown the benefits of putting sporting venues at the heart of regeneration and we look forward to Stratford's transformation," says Wembley National Stadium Limited chief executive Michael Cunnah. "It's a boost to sport in this country and we are honoured to be involved."

Another essential venue is Excel, which will host boxing, judo, tae kwon do, weightlifting and wrestling. It will provide seated arenas with capacities from 6-10,000 and is currently finalising plans for the development of the 25-acre site at the east end of its campus.

Greenwich Park, Regents Park, Hyde Park and the Horseguards Parade will also host sporting events, ranging from beachball and volleyball to cycling.

The Royal Parks will remain fairly untouched during the Olympics and will only have electrical, water and drainage improvements in time for the Games.

The O2 is set to be transformed in partnership with Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and mobile services giant O2, and will re-open in 2007. The venue will host the gymnastics and basketball events. "By 2012 The O2 will be part of the fabric of London life and will have hosted many major music and sporting events, including the World Gymnastic Championships in 2009," says AEG chief executive David Campbell. "Bringing the Olympics to the capital will result in major regeneration of the extended east London area and we are honoured to be given the opportunity to host events."

The main point drummed home to the IOC from the London 2012 bid team was the positive influence the Games will have on London's young people.

"There's no doubt the Olympics can be an inspiration to young people and that was in the main presentation shown in Singapore, and it's something we want to encourage." says a Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson. Visit London's Hornby adds that the youth theme stood out from other bids as it focused on a theme, rather than concentrating on the venues.

Another impact that will benefit London's young people will be the boost in jobs, especially within the hospitality, tourism, manufacturing, retailing, sports, logistics, transport and marketing industries. "Tens of thousands of people will be volunteering and working on the Games," says Hornby.

"Small and medium-sized companies will benefit, marketing will benefit, in fact every business in the East End of London will benefit in some way because of the Olympic Games."

Since the win the London 2012 bid team, which worked closely with agency Live on the project, has been renamed the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games as the preparation stage begins. Sebastian Coe remains chairman and Keith Mills, previously chief executive of the bid team, will become deputy chairman.

"We have moved into a different phase delivering a complex multi-faceted project," says Coe. "But our plans are about more than just bricks and mortar or financial packages. We set out a vision in Singapore and we are now calling on all relevant agencies in the UK to work with us to deliver it. This is about inspiring more young people to become involved in sport and giving the young athletes of the future the help they need to become champions."

The Olympic Bill, which was passed on 15 July, will establish the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), a body responsible for co-ordinating infrastructure projects, transport and delivery of Games venues. In the meantime, the London Development Agency will push forward the project until the ODA is established.

On the subject of security, in the wake of the terror attacks in London on 7 July Coe stressed security is tight. The Government will create a cabinet-level Olympic Security Committee to be chaired by the Home Secretary, £25m has been set aside for in-venue security and £200m has been allocated out of the overall £2.38bn public-funding package to cover wider security costs.

The 2012 Olympics will probably be here before we know it, but it seems that the lasting impressions it makes on London and the UK as a whole will benefit us all for years to follow.

VENUES FACT FILE THE OLYMPIC PARK STRATFORD, LONDON Capacity: Olympic Stadium - 80,000 Aquatics centre - 20,000, (15,000 + 5,000 secondary arena Hockey Centre), Velopark - 6,000 Events: Swimming, synchronised swimming, diving, water polo, fencing, volleyball, basketball, hockey, modern pentathlon, handball, cycling and athletics BROXBOURNE HERTFORDSHIRE Capacity: 12,000 Events: Canoe, Kayaking ETON DORNEY WINDSOR CASTLE Capacity: 20,000 Events: Canoeing, kayak flatwater and rowing EXCEL DOCKLANDS, LONDON Capacity: 6,000-10,000 Events: Boxing, table tennis, judo, tae kwon do, wrestling and weightlifting GREENWICH ARENA GREENWICH, LONDON Capacity: 6,000 Events: Badminton and rhythmic gymnastic events GREENWICH PARK GREENWICH, LONDON Capacity: 23,000 Events: Equestrian and modern pentathlon events HAMPDEN PARK GLASGOW Capacity: 52,000 Events: Football HORSEGUARDS PARADE WHITEHALL, LONDON Capacity: 15,000 Events: Beach volleyball HYDE PARK LONDON Capacity: 3,000 plus many thousands more spectators watching the event throughout the park Events: Triathlon LORD'S CRICKET GROUND ST JOHN'S WOOD, LONDON Capacity: 6,500 Events: Archery MILLENNIUM STADIUM CARDIFF Capacity: 74,600 Events: Football OLD TRAFFORD MANCHESTER Capacity: 75,000 Events: Football REGENT'S PARK LONDON Capacity: 3,000 + more on course Events: Cycling ROYAL ARTILLERY BARRACKS WOOLWICH, LONDON Capacity: 7,500 Events: Shooting ST JAMES' PARK NEWCASTLE Capacity: 52,000 Events: Football THE 02 GREENWICH, LONDON Capacity: 20,000 seats Events: Gymnastics and basketball VILLA PARK BIRMINGHAM Capacity: 42,000 spectators Events: Football WEALD COUNTRY PARK ESSEX Capacity: 3,000 + more on course Events: Mountain biking WEMBLEY LONDON Capacity: 90,000 Events: Football WEYMOUTH AND PORTLAND OSPREY QUAY ON THE SOUTH COAST Capacity: 240 Events: Sailing events WIMBLEDON LONDON Capacity: 30,000 Events: Tennis


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