“The Olympic Games have brought a generation’s worth of investment and regeneration in just a few years”

Lord Sebastian Coe

Despite the controversy surrounding the billions of pounds that have been ploughed into the London Olympics, Sebastian Coe believes that in years to come, what people will remember about the 2012 Games – apart from the medals won and world records broken – is the lasting legacy that communities across the city and beyond will enjoy.

It’s hard to forget the scenes of jubilation in Trafalgar Square on 6 July 2005, the moment Jacques Rogge, president of the Inter­national Olympic Committee (IOC), announced that London would host the 2012 Olympic Games. The TV cameras were trained on the crowds beneath Nelson’s Column, honing in on Dame Kelly Holmes (a double gold medal winner from Athens) and a beaming David Beckham in Singapore, at the IOC meeting. Few were watch­ing Sebastian Coe, the man credited with transforming the London bid which, until he took the helm, had been seen as something of a joke.

It is generally acknowledged that London managed to narrowly edge out the long-term favourite, Paris (54 votes to 50), thanks to an inspirational final presentation from Coe that promised to put young people at the heart of the Games. Coe, a world-class middle distance runner who, during the 1980s, won four Olympic medals (two gold and two silver) and set eight outdoor and three indoor world records, was the perfect choice to take over the ailing Lon­don 2012 committee following the resignation of its chair, Barbara Cassani. He had also proved that he was a consummate politician, serving a term as MP for Falmouth and Cambourne from 1992, and later as chief of staff for Conservative party leader William Hague following his appointment to a life peerage in 2000.

Seven years on, and the preparations for the 30th Olympiad are now complete – the venues are constructed, almost all the tickets have been sold and the torch relay is under way. Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), tells Global about the benefits Londoners, especially those in the East End, can expect to see. And he spells out the wider legacy of the Games, including the 12 mil­lion children in 20 countries who are already benefiting from the International Inspiration programme, illustrating that the promise he made to the IOC in 2005 has become a reality.

Global: The United Kingdom last staged the Olympics in 1948. What does it mean for Britain to be hosting the 2012 Games in London?

Sebastian Coe: We are absolutely thrilled and honoured to be host­ing the Games here in London for the third time [the first country ever to do so]. We are delighted that we can show the world why London is such a fantastic city. The Olympic Games and Paralym­pic Games are the world’s greatest international sporting events and London is probably the world’s greatest international city. We have a fantastic opportunity to showcase the energy, creativity and buzz which emanates from our capital and showcase the best of British to the world.

According to the calculations of the UK parliamentary public accounts committee, the Olympic Games are overrunning their £9.2 billion budget – a claim which the government rejects. Can you clarify the confusion over the budget and confirm how much the Games will cost in total? How much of this has been raised by LOCOG and how much has come from the public purse?

There are two budgets – one for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and one for the Ol­ympic Delivery Authority (ODA). LOCOG is a privately funded or­ganisation and our budget is £2 billion – this is the cost of staging the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Our budget is raised from sponsors, ticket and merchandise sales, and broadcast rights.

The ODA budget is publicly funded and is £9.3 billion; 75 pence in every £1 spent is being used on the regeneration of the area of east London where the Olympic Park is based, helping leave a last­ing legacy for generations to come.

Given the state of the UK’s economy and government spending cuts and tax increases, how can you justify spending billions on a single sporting event? What lasting benefits will the British people, and east Londoners in particular, see from the Games?

We strongly believe the Games will bring lasting economic ben­efits to London and the rest of the UK. Last year, Visa, one of Lon­don 2012’s worldwide partners, issued a report stating that the UK economy was set to benefit from a record-breaking spending injec­tion during the London 2012 Games. Consumer spending is set to hit £750 million, the biggest ever consumer spend at an Olympic and Paralympic Games.

We also wanted to make sure that we only built venues which would be needed in [the] long-term legacy, which is why we are using a combination of newly built, existing and temporary venues for the London 2012 Games. About four years ago, the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) was set up to help manage the venues. Our vision has always been to leave a lasting legacy and we wanted to ensure that we would only build permanent venues on the Park that would be used long after the Games are over, by people across London and the rest of the UK. The OPLC recently announced that several venues on the Olympic Park had already found tenants. The area where the Olympic Park [is] has been com­pletely regenerated and a whole new community has been created. The fantastic permanent venues on the Olympic Park will provide a great legacy to communities across London.

£6.5 billion has also been invested in improving and expanding transport capacity and reliability. Again, this is something which will benefit Londoners and others around the UK for generations to come.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games have brought a genera­tion’s worth of investment and regeneration in just a few years. World-class sporting facilities, new housing, a new urban park, the new Westfield [shopping] development and improved transport links have combined to create almost a brand new community in the area. I’m proud that the Games have been the catalyst for this.

The London 2012 bid team promised to “reach young people all around the world and connect them to the inspirational power of the Games”. What has LOCOG done to meet this promise and why is it important that the benefits of the London Games stretch beyond the UK?

When we went to Singapore in 2005, we said we wanted to use the power of the Games to inspire young people around the world to choose sport, and our vision was to leave a lasting legacy. These two aspirations have been at the heart of our planning right from the start and I strongly believe that we are well on our way to de­livering them.

Thanks to our International Inspiration programme, there are also more than 12 million children and young people in 20 coun­tries around the world benefiting from high-quality sport, PE and play opportunities.

Sport is hugely important in a country’s development – it is a language that everyone speaks. It can help change lives, open doors to leadership, health, inclusion or simply the joy of participation. Sport can be used to teach people about trust and respect and boost their confidence.

The practice of sport in the community can break down barriers to social isolation and participation, and provide greater social co­hesion which can give young people hope and better alternatives. It is the hidden social worker in all our communities. Many people around the world don’t have the opportunity to play sport, let alone dream of Olympic glory. Every person, whatever their background, has the right to play and achieve their full potential.

There has been a great deal of criticism of the ticket sales process, from website glitches to oversubscription, from the high price of tickets to accusations that LOCOG has failed to honour its commitment to allocate 75 percent of all seats in the public ballot, especially for popular events like the opening ceremony or the men’s 100 m final. What is your response to this criticism and how confident are you that tickets have been distributed fairly?

We wanted to achieve three things with our ticketing programme – ensure tickets were affordable for the public; ensure that we had filled venues with enthusiastic sports fans; and ensure that we met our revenue targets. I really believe we have achieved this.

Given the high demand, the fairest way was to use a ballot. We do understand there was a great deal of disappointment amongst those people who missed out on tickets and as more tickets will go on sale, we are determined to get them into the hands of sports fans. We are working hard to ensure that we make this happen.

The security of the Games is a key issue of concern for LOCOG, the British government and those attending the Olympics. What measures have been put in place to guarantee the safety of competitors and spectators?

In terms of security, we have a commitment to deliver a safe and secure Games and we are working closely with the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office to ensure we deliver this. A lot of de­tailed planning work has already taken place regarding security plans for the Games and we will continue to review our plans to­gether over the coming year.

London also has a lot of experience in handling big events and ensuring the safety of spectators in a big city. LOCOG is responsi­ble for in-venue security. Wider policing plans are delivered by the Metropolitan Police and forces throughout the UK, the Olympic Security Directorate and the Home Office. The home secretary has overall responsibility for the security arrangements for the Games, in accordance with the guarantees given by the then home secretary [Charles Clarke] to the IOC in 2005.

The focus of the government, LOCOG and the ODA is to deliver a safe and secure Games that London, the UK and the world can enjoy. Security has been thoroughly reviewed and is assessed on an ongoing basis, and we are confident the right plans are in place to deliver a safe and secure Games.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has overturned the British Olympic Authority’s policy of handing out lifetime bans to athletes found guilty of serious doping offences, leaving the sprinter Dwain Chambers and cyclist David Millar free to compete for Team GB this summer. Do you agree with CAS’s decision? Should Miller and Chambers be allowed to join the British squad in London?

The CAS decision is full and final and it’s binding, and the issue now is to move forward. If Chambers and Millar are selected, they are eligible to compete and will be accorded every courtesy. My views on the issue have been known for many years but the deci­sion is binding.

What measures are being taken to ensure that the London 2012 Games are as drug-free as possible?

I think what people remember from Olympic and Paralympic Games is the fantastic performances from the athletes, the world records being broken and medals being won. It’s crucial for ath­letes to be role models for young people and to show that you can be an elite-level athlete without using drugs. Unfortunately, some athletes feel they need to resort to using drugs to enhance their per­formance, but thankfully they are usually in a minority.

We will be working closely with our partner GSK [GlaxoSmith­Kline] to help ensure London 2012 can be the cleanest Games pos­sible. GSK will provide facilities and equipment to enable King’s College London to operate a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredit­ed laboratory at Games time.

What will it mean for British athletes to compete, and possibly even win medals, in the London Olympics? How important is the home advantage?

As a former athlete, I know that our British athletes will be feel­ing both incredibly excited and under pressure about competing on home soil. The British public are mad about sport, so they will definitely guarantee a great atmosphere in the venues and make British athletes feel proud and honoured to be competing there. I think that our athletes are in a great shape and have fantastic sup­port networks to ensure they are as prepared as possible and can deliver the performance of their lifetime.

We are lucky in that most athletes competing at Games time will be doing so in front of a home crowd, thanks to the hundreds of communities that live in London. And we are really looking for­ward to welcoming athletes and spectators from around the world this summer for what will be a fantastic showcase of sport.

Interview by Elissa Jobson

About the author:

Lord Sebastian Coe is Chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games


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