London’s Olympic Legacy Better Than Athens: Minister

With 100 days to go until the 2012 Olympic Games begin in London, the government is confident the Games will provide a long-term economic boost, the UK minister for sport and the Olympics told CNBC.

2012 Olympic Rings Unveiled at St Pancras International Station
Paul Gilham
2012 Olympic Rings Unveiled at St Pancras International Station

Hosting the Olympics can be a boon – in the case of Sydney – or a poisoned chalice for public finances, as Athens found.

In London, there are concerns about a security budget that has almost doubled since the Games were first awarded to London seven years ago, and about whether the Games can be carried out within its 9.3 billion pounds ($14.8 billion) budget.

The impact of millions of extra visitors on London’s transport system is also cause for concern, as the venue is close to important commercial areas such as Canary Wharf, the center of much of the UK’s financial services industry. The potential for rising absenteeism is also worrying employers.

Hugh Robertson, minister for sport and the Olympics, said: “I don’t think the entire country will grind to a halt. London is such a big city that it would never grind to a halt, and Transport for London told me recently that there are 25 million journeys made in London each day.”

He added that there is usually a 15 percent fall-off in journeys taken over the summer holiday period, so the Olympics traffic will replace some that has been removed.

“What the Olympics will give us is a fantastic opportunity to market this country, so any short-term loss we calculate will be more than compensated for by an enormous post-Games boom that should leave this country very well placed,” he said.

Amid renewed concerns about security around the Games, following the invasion of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race by a protestor earlier in April, the government is confident of a “safe and secure Games, said Robertson, who served in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and the Gulf War for the British Army before entering politics.

“Terrorism I’m afraid is a part of daily life, in this country as it is in many, many Western capitals. We are experienced at dealing with it, and I am as confident as I possibly can be, and it’s an area that I’ve got some experience in and I understand reasonably well, that we have done everything that we possibly can to deliver a safe and secure Games,” he said.

“In terms of disrupting a sport, there is nothing terribly new in that, and that has happened in both Olympic Games and sport events, right around the globe. What happened during the boat race was unfortunate, but in a sense not entirely unexpected. You can’t completely prevent that happening without locking sport events down to such a very great extent that it ruins a spectator experience.”