Minister defends 'central' siting of Olympic venues

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The Independent Online

It is the right decision that more venues for the 2012 Olympics are not based outside London, Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said today.

David Jones, shadow minister for Wales, told her that many Britons were "sceptical" about her claims that the 2012 games could be both a "UK Olympics" and a "compact London Olympics".

There is also particular "disappointment" that Wales lost out to Essex, which is "not known as a very mountainous region" to stage the mountain biking competition, he argued.

In defending the decisions surrounding the siting of the Olympic venues, Ms Jowell told the Welsh Affairs Committee: "A compact Games is a very important part of why we won.

"Let me tell you the decisions about venues are decisions taken in close discussion with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) led by the organising committee.

"They made absolutely clear that one of the most important characteristics of a London Games is that they be compact, so discussion in relation to shooting, for example, was take in light of that and also the discussions in relation to mountain biking."

Ms Jowell said the mountain biking will take place at Hadleigh Farm in Essex but other venues nationwide could be approved as training camps for the competition.

She said: "It is a London Games and people can say it should be spread around the UK, but then we would not have won the bid.

"It is possible to register your disappointment but things will not be changing.

"The final decisions on the venues have been taken and it is important now that the construction proceeds on time so that we can come in on budget."

Many of the football venues - including the Millennium Stadium, St James' Park, Old Trafford, Hampden Park and Villa Park - are outside London.

There is also the canoe and kayak slalom event at the Broxbourne White Water Canoe Centre on the edge of the 1,000-acre Lee Valley regional park in Hertfordshire.

Eton Dorney near Windsor hosts the rowing and flatwater canoe competition, while Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour, on England's south coast, stage the sailing competitions.

Even though the sailing and equestrian events at last year's Olympics were held outside Beijing, Ms Jowell stressed: "We should not overestimate the degree of dispersal in China. It was very specific and in two sports."

She added: "There are many reasons which guide the IOC in this and one is the wish for athletes to be part of the whole Olympic festival and the extent to which they will live in the Olympic Village and be part of it all.

"Then there is the affordability of building a single athletes' village rather than an athletes' village linked around venues around the UK."