Don't ruin Olympic dream, protesters told

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The Independent Online
TESSA JOWELL has told campaigners opposed to London's bid to stage the Olympic Games that any attempt to sabotage the project would "ruin the dreams" of the vast majority of Britons.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said protesters had a duty not to carry out their threat to disrupt a crucial visit to London next week by an inspection team from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which marks the beginning of the final stage of electioneering.

"I say to those with an axe to grind, don't spoil it for the vast majority of people in this country who want the Olympics," said Ms Jowell.

She was referring to nolondon2012, a group of environmental activists and anti- globalisation campaigners threatening direct action during the four-day visit by the IOC's evaluation commission which starts on Wednesday.

The group claims that a London Olympics in 2012 would be a financial and environmental "disaster", with few benefits for the deprived communities closest to the main site. Drawing on expertise from such protests as the May Day demonstrations in London and the anti-car movement, Critical Mass, nolondon2012 is planning to occupy buildings and stage other "spectaculars" such as unfurling banners from monuments or tall buildings.

A special Olympic version of the critical mass bike ride, a regular anti- car event in which thousands of cyclists disrupt central London traffic, will see protesters ride from the Greater London Authority's headquarters on the South Bank to Stratford in east London on Friday night.

The focal point of the protests the next day will be in Stratford, two miles from the site of the proposed Olympic park. Hundreds of campaigners will be encouraged to dress as competitors in three-legged, egg-and-spoon or sack races.

The action could be damaging because the IOC is sensitive to local opposition, particularly if it is from within the catchment area of the main venues.

In an interview with The Independent, Ms Jowell hit back at the protesters. She said: "People have the right to express their view but they have no right to ruin people's dreams. They have raised their objections but I think we can answer every one."

In answer to concerns about the ecology of the lower Lea Valley near Stratford, which is earmarked for the Olympic park, Ms Jowell said a London Olympics could be "the greenest Games ever". She also attacked opponents for peddling "myths" about a London Games, dismissing claims that the legacy benefits for the deprived local community had been exaggerated and that Londoners would be subjected to oppressive security measures. Neither are they "conniving" to deprive Hackney Marshes, the spiritual home of Sunday football, of green space. Government support is vital and Ms Jowell, as the cabinet minister responsible for the bid, has been preparing for an hour-long presentation. Doubtless the commission will raise the question of Pickett's Lock. Having won the bid to stage the 2005 World Athletics Championships in Pickett's Lock, north London, the Government then told the International Association of Athletics Federations that it could not afford the event.

"I think we have been forgiven for Pickett's Lock by the IOC," she said. "The Commonwealth Games [in Manchester in 2002] were a huge success and convinced everybody in the international federations that we can mount major sporting events in a way which sets a new standard. We made mistakes way back over Pickett's Lock and Wembley but we have learnt our lessons."

The Olympic bid team believes it has begun to convince its electorate - the 118 voting IOC members - that public transport which they branded "often obsolete" in a report last May, will be more than adequate in seven years' time. Ms Jowell claims that with pounds 17bn planned investment for projects ranging from Heathrow's Terminal Five to the completion of the Channel tunnel rail link, London would leave Paris behind. "We have got to stop talking down our transport. It's a strength, not a weakness," she said.

Rivals from other bidding cities are beginning to seize on London's budgetary plans, playing on perceptions that the Government is not as committed to sport as others involved in the bid. Ms Jowell conceded that by raising the funds through the National Lottery, other good causes such as arts and heritage projects may suffer. If London wins, it is estimated that a new lottery game dedicated to the Olympics may reduce funding for other good causes by up to 5 per cent, or pounds 60m, for the first four years and by up to 12 per cent in the three years before 2012.

She added: "People in the UK know how the Games are going to be paid for and have the information about the actual consequences of winning the Games which I don't think other cities have in the same degree of detail."

THE IOC'S CRUCIAL VISIT TO LONDON

During its four-day visit to London, the 14-strong evaluation commission, led by the Moroccan former Olympic women's hurdles champion Nawal El Moutawakel, will closely scrutinise the bid.

Its schedule is taken up by a series of displays and presentations on 17 themes, ranging from transport and budgets to security and media facilities, and will require an Olympian's power of endurance.

Having completed its inspection of Madrid a week ago, the team will weigh up the merits of New York, Moscow and Paris. The team, comprising IOC members and technical advisers, will prepare its 20-page report on each city which will be distributed to members a month before the vote on 6 July.

POSSIBLE ITINERARY

Wednesday: Presentations by leaders of London 2012.

Thursday: Site visit to planned Olympic venues such as the Dome and Greenwich Park and the proposed Olympic park in the lower Lea Valley.

Friday: Meeting at No 10; dinner with Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Saturday: Press conference chaired by Gilbert Felli, executive director of the Olympic Games.

Sunday: Depart

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