London Olympics organizer: recent violence won’t scar image of games
LONDON – After days of silence while images of fires, looting and riots were beamed across screens around the world, the chief organizer of the London Olympics finally spoke and essentially said: The state of the games is fine.
Sebastian Coe, an Olympic great and former Parliament member, said Thursday he has conferred with IOC President Jacques Rogge and other sports leaders as the mayhem in England provided a jarring counterpoint to a showpiece event that will be held in less than a year. He said they assured him the image of the Olympics would not be scarred by the violence.
“They know that things from time to time come out of left field in cities,” Coe said at Wembley Arena, where the world badminton championships are serving as a test event for next year’s Olympics. “Effectively within two days we had that under control.”
Coe stressed that the local organizing committee was learning from what happened.
“Over the next year we will continue our contingency plans,” Coe said. “They will deal with all sorts of things, including public disorder.”
The riots began in the Tottenham neighborhood on Sept. 6 less than two weeks after London celebrated the one-year countdown to the opening of the games on July 27, 2012. They soon spread to other parts of London and to other cities, forcing Prime Minister David Cameron to cut short his summer vacation in Italy.
Although several soccer games, including England’s match with the Netherlands, have been canceled or postponed because of the four days of unrest, Olympic test events have gone ahead with few problems.
The badminton worlds in northwest London have been unaffected, but the first day of the beach volleyball competition at Horse Guards Parade in central London on Tuesday was stopped a few hours early to allow everyone to get home before dark.
Other test events this week included a marathon swimming competition at Hyde Park on Saturday and a cycling road race through the streets of London on today.
The closest the violence came to the Olympic Park was on Monday when rioting spread to Hackney, about 4 miles from the site that includes the main Olympic Stadium and other key venues.
“I am neither sanguine nor cavalier about the disfiguring images which were beamed around the world,” Coe said. “But at the same time we have had test events up and running quickly.”
On Tuesday, the IOC stood up for Coe and his organizing committee, saying “we’re happy with how local organizers are dealing with the issue and we are confident they will do a good job.”
The smooth running of the test events has gone a long way to proving to the IOC that the games will be hard to disrupt.
“We have the leadership of the IOC with us and it is important for them to see that while we have had our challenges in London, these events have gone on in an orderly and timely way,” Coe said. “They recognize that in very difficult circumstances we have managed to deliver what we set out to do. I am happy that we are on time and on track.”