Oswald the friendly overlord

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The Independent Online

As chairman of the International Olympic Committee's Co-ordination Commis- sion, the former international rower and current president of the International Rowing Federation will not be slow to put his oar in should things go awry, as they did while he was similarly supervising the run-up to last year's Games. But he says he believes those lessons have been absorbed by both the IOC and London.

The IOC president Jacques Rogge's closest confidant is a graduate of the steel fist in a velvet glove school. He also has a masters degree in diplomacy. This is why in the critical stages of Athens, when it all appeared to be heading towards a Greek tragedy, he publicly revealed little of the war of words going on bet-ween him, the Athens 2004 president, Gianna Angelopou-los, and the Greek government.

In this respect he was aided by a largely unquestioning Athens media. He knows their British counterparts will be less accommodating. Doubtless he will be amused to learn that one UK government minister, after an initial meeting with the Olympic press pack, described them to an aide as "a bunch of savages compared to the political writers". Perhaps we should take that as a compliment.

One way or another, the organisers of the London Games will be kept on their toes. On Oswald's part there will be a strong desire to see that it is the hand of Locog (London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) that controls the tiller, and not that of Westminster or Whitehall. The Locog president, Lord Coe, has already made it clear he will have no truck with governmental interference, and he he has an ally in Mayor Ken Livingstone in keeping meddlesome mandarins at arm's length.

This was demonstrated at a recent Olympic Board meeting, when officials from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell's "Olympics ministry", produced a document outlining how they thought the Games should be planned. Livingstone, I understand, promptly "tore it to shreds" and dismissed it as "rubbish".

One aspect where Oswald will welcome a strong government influence is security, which in the light of the July bombings is now expected to cost £1bn, half as much again as was eventually required in Athens. "Security is number one. We will monitor the situation and take every step to make the Games as safe as possible," he says. In addition to the Co-ordination Commission, the IOC will bring in their own security expert, possibly Peter Ryan, the ex-London bobby who supervised the Athens and Sydney operations.

But Oswald's principal task is to ensure London's promises are worth the paper they were written on for the bid book. There was much table-banging and many heated words behind locked doors in Athens. Oswald forecasts this may not be necessary here as he and his team chart London's progress. He is impressed that Locog have hit the ground running, and at an initial meeting last Thursday he professed himself not only satisfied, but surprised at how advanced London's plans are compared with Athens. This was reflected in the encouraging joint communiqué issued by Locog and the IOC afterwards. "We could not have started on a better footing," said Coe.

All 16 members of the new commission are fluent English speakers and most are Anglo-philes who probably voted for London in the final ballot. "We are not IOC police," insists Oswald. "We just want to help London get it right."

If London do get it right they will have a good friend in Dennie. If they happen to get it wrong, then they will find that Denis really can be a menace.