A welcome from London – the centre of the world

As thousands of overseas visitors pour in for the Games, expats already living in the capital reveal their hopes and dreams

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The Independent Online


Space Clottey, the chief executive and DJ-in-chief of Voice of Africa Radio, takes to the airwaves on a rainy day in Newham, east London, to rustle up some excitement about the Olympics. For listeners to London's premier African community radio station, stuck in traffic on the drive back home, his enthusiasm must be a tonic.

"Yes, we are happy. Happy to be in Newham, at a time like this, to be alive for the Olympics in Newham. Our brothers and our sisters from Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya – they are all coming here. We'll be celebrating them all very soon. Stay tuned."

Voice of Africa Radio, based in a small studio a short walk from the Olympic Park, is a local institution, and Mr Clottey, pictured right, is something of a local hero. He made the journey from the streets of the Ghanaian capital, Accra, 16 years ago to study law in London. Enthralled by "the frenzy and the freedom" of the British media, he dropped law and resolved to give a voice to the growing community of London's African migrants. VOAR was born, making its first broadcast, to London and the rest of the world, on 1 January 2000. "As a colonial country, Great Britain is a Ghanaian's second home and we love it," he says, in a moment away from the microphone.

"Ghanaians are very warm, easy-going, peaceful people. We bring hospitality, we bring sport and we bring Ghanaian food – have you tried Ghanaian food?"

Ghana is sending 10 athletes to London 2012 and the nation's best medal hopes rest on the shoulders of four young boxers. The sport won Ghana its only silver medal when Clement Quartey competed in the Rome Games back in 1960."After football, boxing is the finest sport," says Mr Clottey. "And it is one that really raises the flag of Ghana."

As thousands of overseas visitors pour in for the Games, expats already living in the capital reveal their hopes and dreams


British Virgin Islands

Visitors from the British Virgin Islands are expected to outnumber the permanent expatriate community by about two to one, according to the islands' authorities.

Only 27 British Virgin Islanders are known to live in London full-time, along with 65 students, and just two athletes from the overseas territory will compete at London 2012. But the authorities are expecting about 60 people to travel to the Games.

The capital is not exactly teeming with British Virgin Islands bars, cafés and restaurants to make them feel at home. But those who make the 4,000-mile journey to the capital without tickets will be able to watch every event at British Virgin Island House, the government's office in London.

A big screen has been put up inside the Mayfair building and staff said they were hoping that Londoners as well as their visitors from home would come along. "We have invited all British Virgin Islanders who live in London, and the Games coincide with out ninth annual art and culture show and Territory Day reception," said a spokesman.


Members of London's Chinese community, who gathered at the Islington Chinese Association in north London, said they hoped that the passing of the torch from their maternal country to their adopted one would bring the two closer together.

"The two countries have different cultures. Here in the UK, we will host an overall more successful Games because they will be used to help the economy in the UK and beyond," said Chui Mei, who was born in Hong Kong.

A woman named Joyce, who moved to Britain from Hong Kong 25 years ago, added: "Last time, in Beijing, they showed the British with their history of commerce and all their culture, I think the Games will help the two nations understand each other a lot better. We will become closer in our relationship; that will do us good.That said, I am sure China will win more Gold medals."

The rest of the group nodded in agreement. Some conceded that "America will be strong", most said they would cheer for Team GB athletes, but each was certain that China would come out on top.

But they expressed frustration that tickets had been so difficult to obtain. One, Jim Hwa, added:"They were too expensive." .

Most of the group, however, insisted they would support Team GB.. "Yes, we have been here for quite a long time," said Joyce. Michelle Hwa agreed, saying: "We are all British now."


The ladies of Arachne Greek Cypriot Women's Group in Islington, north London, have much in which to take pride: the Games from their homeland have come to the one they have adopted and come to love.

"Of course, I will support my country; I will be behind Greek and Cypriot athletes, but we live in this country and we love it, so we'll also support Team GB," said Elena Salacuri, 65, who was born in Cyprus.

Nine-year-old Evangelos, who was born in London, was sure he would be supporting Great Britain but would still feel loyalty to the Greeks. "If they came up against each other, I'm not sure what I would do," he said.

All of the group agreed: the one athlete they wanted to see regardless of national loyalty was Usain Bolt. "I want to see how many gold medals he gets," said Evangelos, pictured right.


The owner of the only Cambodian restaurant in London is unruffled by the Games. "The Olympics? Some sort of sporting event. Happens every four years. There's no such big deal," said Thomas Tan, prorietor and chef at Lemongrass, , tucked away on an unassuming street in Camden.

Six athletes from the south-east Asian nation are competing, but any celebrations among the capital's tiny Cambodian community are likely to be low-key, said Mr Tan. His restaurant is a hub for the Khmer community and the only place in the city to get an authentic fish amok, the national dish. He said: "I'm taking the opportunity to have some time off. We are all always working, so there is little time for socialising anyway."

Although the supporters are unlikely to be out in force, there will be a modest party at the Cambodian embassy on Saturday to greet the athletes.

The competitors, from one of Asia's poorest countries, are paid just $60 a month.


The Jamaican community, one of the most famous and visible in Britain, also boasts the biggest star the track has seen in some time.

More than any other, Usain Bolt is the athlete that spectators of all nationalities want to see. But the youth workers at Jamaicans Inspired – also known as Jamin – insisted there are many others in the Jamaican Team.

"All of the Jamaicans in the UK will be supporting their home team," said communications director Trisha Levien. "The young Jamaican people will support their homeland by default. Those born over here will feel more of a need to belong. Jamaicans are just very excited."

Nathanial Peat, who runs the group trying to help young people find a sense of identity by teaching them about their Jamaican roots, said: "They will cheer for Jamaica because it is a successful sporting nation. But it is also a popular nation; you can hear its music in every part of the world. It is an easy country to love.

"It is also a double whammy for us because it coincides with the anniversary of Jamaica's independence."

Khori Hyde, the group's executive director of promotions, said the disruption parts of the community have felt in the run-up to the Games would be worth it. "It is in their manor, it is something that the rest of the country... will not be able to say they had," he added.

South Africa

Last month, Wimbledon's bars swarmed with rugby fans in green and yellow jerseys, a familiar sight in a booming community of young South African expats. When 4 August comes around a more unconventional spectacle will attract sports fans: Oscar Pistorius, the first amputee to compete in the Olympics, sprinting 400 metres on a pair of carbon fibre limbs.

The Slug bar on Hartfield Road has Pistorius' national flag blazoned along the walls, not just anticipating the Olympics but as a permanent feature.

Greg Crammond, who has run the bar for 15 years, knows how to keep his compatriots happy: 17 large TV screens on two floors will show Pistorius defying Olympic convention in the 400 metres and 4x400 metres relay.

Holly Peterson, 20, from Johannesburg and a bartender at The Slug, expects a unique atmosphere. "Everyone loves sports in South Africa, it's just part of us. It's going to be so festive."

The Blade Runner, as Pistorius is also known, isn't expected to win medals but she doesn't think that's important. "The main thing is that he's there and we can watch him and say 'that's from home,'" she said.


Anyone who doubts that Olympic football matters should speak to a Brazilian.

"Olympic gold is the only thing our footballers have not won," said Renato Paziam, with a steely expression on his face. "This is taken seriously in Brazil. Very seriously."

Mr Paziam is the manager of Made in Brasil, a Camden bar that is a hub for London's growing Brazilian community, and has had the team's games in his events diary for weeks.

On Thursday evening, as the boys in yellow and green stepped out at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium to play Egypt, there was standing room only at the bar. When they eventually dispatched their opponents 3-2 after a shaky second half, the samba struck up a beat and the caipirinhas flowed.

There are an estimated 200,000 Brazilians resident in the UK and the majority of them live in London. With the next Olympic Games taking place back home in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, they will be watching the Games unfold with great interest.

"It's an important Olympics for us because next time it will be our turn," said Mr Paziam. "We are confident we can bring the gold back to Brazil. At the bar we'll be showing all the events. There will be bands and DJs, samba, bossa nova … a little taste of the Rio Olympics in London."

"All Jamaicans in the UK will be supporting their home team. Jamaicans are just very excited"