Games will be more Harrods than Asda to make us proud

Crunch time but Seb sidekick ignores talk of Austerity Games
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The Independent Online

When the delegation from the International Olympic Committee, led by the president, Jacques Rogge, arrive in London tomorrow for a four-day debate on the lessons to be learned from Beijing, they will also seek an assurance that the new Olympic sport of credit-crunching will not turn 2012 into another Austerity Games.

And the man charged with the task of convincing them that, unlike 1948, the modern London Olympics will not be more Asda than Harrods will promise: "Never mind the gloom-and-doom merchants. We will deliver a Games you will be proud of."

These are not Lord Coe's words, though doubtless he would endorse them, but those of someone who could hardly be better placed to gauge the impact the global recession will have on the world's greatest sporting showpiece. Paul Deighton, the former CEO in Europe for the investment bankers Goldman Sachs, became the most powerful broker in British sport when he took over as the chief executive of Locog, the 2012 organising body.

He is rather more significant than merely Seb's sidekick; he is the linchpin of an operation upon which the reputation of a nation depends. So the message he will deliver to his audience of Olympic bigwigs on the final day of their conference is: "There are some things we will try and do as well as the Chinese, some things we will do differently.

"It wouldn't be an economic proposition to try and do better, but we can match it. I don't think scaling the Games back and making them a different animal altogether is what anybody wants. The beauty of the Games is to provide the perfect platform for the world's greatest athletes to do their thing. We must preserve that, and while we do some things creatively, the picture of making it austere is wrong. We want a Games to be proud of. Austerity Games is not a phrase I support."

But he does admit there will be cutbacks – he told the London Assembly last week that plans to build some new venues are to be scrapped, with sports relocated to existing buildings at a saving of £40 million – and that the run-in to 2012 will be a bumpy one.

"Any organisation that has run a Games would define their ride as incredibly bumpy, regardless of the economic circumstances. It's a massiveproject, and where we are in the present economic cycle will add its rhythm to the bumps. My guess is we will have a bit more down and then a steady recovery. We went out aggressively to raise money when the sun was shining,and now in this period we will be very aggressive about driving down costs."

The 52-year-old Arsenal fan has been three years in a role in which he takes the weight off Coe's shoulders, attending to the nuts and bolts and knocking the Games into shape while His Overlordship gets on with high-stepping his way through the political minefields that inevitably lie ahead. You would expect Deighton to talk up the Games, and despite the current chill wind he does not disappoint. "The credit crunch is one of the things that conditions the environment we operate in, but frankly that is overridden by the impact of the Olympic and Para-lympic Games in Beijing. If you think of those as the three big events of the summer – the Olympics, Paras and credit crunch – they have all had a huge effect on us, but the Olympics are ahead of the credit crunch by some way.

"When we started this project we were in extraordinarily benign economic markets, which made it a very good time to persuade big companies to support the Games. We have some high-class companies who are fully contracted to make their payments and these are clearly going to survive and prosper throughout the next four years. Between now and 2012 we have a third of our sponsorship left to raise, but all the companies we were talking to before the credit crunch are still talking to us, and more have come in."

He argues that London 2012 is one of the few entities in the country that is actually expanding at the moment. "We are the world's favourite target for recruitment agencies because we are in the growth business."

The £9.3 billion question: if the current economic situation had existed three years ago, would he still have applied for the job? "My response to the advertisement was not a rational one but an emotional one. These Olym-pics are the greatest thing to happen in my country, in my city, in my lifetime. The magic of it is way beyond any point in the economic cycle. I would have been as compelled to play my part in it regardless of the circumstances. Whatever is in front of us, our team will figure out how to deliver the most stunningly successful Games ever." Perhaps for once we shouldn't look worried when a former banker assures us: "You can bank on it."

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