LONDON (Reuters) - Organisers of the 2012 Olympics will be hoping to emulate the street-party atmosphere of Vancouver now that the curtain has come down on the Winter Games and all eyes turn to London.
London organisers have always promised a “compact and atmospheric” Summer Games, largely as an antidote to the glitz of Beijing which is estimated to have spent 40 billion pounds on staging the 2008 Olympics.
London also pledged it would provide efficiency, with the added commitment of delivering a legacy which would avoid the white elephants of some previous Games such as Athens.
It has been efficient with its 9.3-billion-pound budget — rather in the vein of 1948, the last time London staged the Olympics, when economic hardship resulted in the so-called austerity Games.
The current economic downturn has again forced belt-tightening, with some planned new, temporary sites, such as the fencing and badminton arenas, being scrapped in favour of existing ones.
Regeneration of a once deprived part of east London is under way, with improved transport links, new housing and the prospect of high-tech businesses moving in to what will become Britain’s largest urban park for more than 100 years.
“Each Olympics is distinctive for different reasons, and I think that despite the amount of money being spent on London, there is a return to normality, looking for value for money and making sure there is a tangible legacy,” Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry University Business School, told Reuters.
Any hopes that London would be “a back to reality” Games may be exaggerated partly because London has a global reputation it cannot afford to jeopardise, but mainly because the Olympics have become so commercial.
London is “on budget and on time,” according to organisers, but the cost is about three times the original estimate. The economic downturn scuppered its private and public partnership plans for two of the park’s biggest projects, the Olympic Village and media centre, forcing the taxpayer to step in.
Experts say the security budget of 600 million pounds, the same as Vancouver, is hopelessly optimistic given that Britain will be a much bigger target for potential attackers after its support of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Other financial risks lie ahead, including a potential shortfall in the estimated sales revenue of the Olympic Village after the Games.
Despite London’s legacy promises, some lawmakers fear a lack of stadium tenants after the Games will result in venues lying empty at a cost of 276 million pounds, and fears are mounting that regeneration will just result in gentrification, with affluent residents moving in and pushing locals out.
Moves to safeguard company trademarks and stamp out ambush marketing, to preserve the monopoly of official advertisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) logo, are raising concerns among civil liberty groups.
Police will have powers to enter private homes and seize posters, and will be able to stop people carrying non-sponsor items to sporting events.
“I think there will be lots of people doing things completely innocently who are going to be caught by this, and some people will be prosecuted, while others will be so angry about it that they will start complaining about civil liberties issues,” Chadwick said.
“I think what it will potentially do is to prompt a debate about the commercial nature of the Games. Do big sponsors have too much influence over the Games?”
A possible change of government in a national election this spring would not disrupt planning, commentators said. But problems such as the city’s notorious traffic jams and a ticketing policy to avoid empty seats still need to be considered.
The idea of moving the Olympic flame out of the main stadium may have to be re-visited after Vancouver was criticised for putting theirs behind an ugly wire fence.
Overall, though, London’s planning was going well, said Chris Gratton, professor of sport economics at Sheffield Hallam University.
“It is dynamic, there are changes and certain people will lose from it, but the end result is pretty much positive.”
Editing by Clare Fallon