Coming to a sports centre near you – if you’re lucky – a tiny piece of London 2012
Whether it is a cynical attempt to convince the “Nations and Regions” that the Olympics has a value beyond the south east of England, or a reminder that the 2012 Games really is a national event, it has managed to achieve something. The portable patio-heater has already travelled hundreds of miles in 26 days and, despite what you might have read, it hasn’t been tossed between will.i.am and Jedward all the way. Today, for example, 18-year-old Hannah Clarke, who has raised nearly £10,000 for cancer charities since she was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour, is slated to carry the flame in Milnathort.
But, even when the flame has trotted past, it will not be the final contact many towns and cities have with London 2012. There is a small part of Durham, for example, that will forever be Sri Lanka – or at least for a few weeks in the run-up to the start of the Games next month.
The tiny Sri Lankan National Olympic Committee has taken up the chance to head to historic Durham University while they acclimatise in preparation for the Games, which begin on 27 July. But the Olympic organisers have admitted that the hardy outfit is one of only a select few that has so far dared to travel far from the main facilities in East London.
Sri Lanka is one of 128 Olympic and Paralympics teams tempted by assiduous advertising – and a bounty of up to £25,000 from the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG) – to venture to different parts of the UK during the build-up.
LOCOG’s official list of Pre-Games Training Camp Agreements shows that Australia’s boxers will be based in Belfast, Zambian Olympians will go to Glasgow, while Manchester will host a handful of athletes, including Brazil’s paralympians and America’s elite basketball players. Triple Olympic champion Usain Bolt will train at Birmingham University along with colleagues from the Jamaican athletic team.
The promise of training camps is one of the dividends repeatedly set out by ministers to rally nationwide support for the Olympics since before the Games were awarded to London in 2012. In February, Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said: “UK Nations and Regions are making the most of the opportunities and benefits from the sporting, economic, and cultural programmes provided by the games, for example, through businesses winning games-related work, increased tourism [and] Pre-Games Training Camps.”
But the official figures reveal that the “opportunities and benefits” presented by the arrival of thousands of athletes have not been shared out equally. A LOCOG “catalogue” sent to all 196 competing nations included more than 600 potential training bases across the UK, but the vast majority have been left on the shelf. Less than 30 out of the 128 teams to have made their choice so far have opted for bases in the Midlands, the North, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Scotland and the East and West Midlands have all secured only two teams each so far, despite offering almost 120 venues. In contrast, 26 out of 68 venues in the South West have already been signed up – a “strike rate” of almost 40 per cent.
The South East will welcome 30 teams, while a further 26, mainly sailing teams including Italy, the United States, Austria and Japan, will head for the South West.
Northern Ireland, which had set a target of hosting 10 teams – stating that “vigorous efforts will be required to market Northern Ireland and the facilities to potential countries/teams to secure their usage” – has signed up only three.
The former chairman of the NI Assembly’s Culture Arts and Leisure committee, Barry McElduff, last year described the performance as an “unmitigated failure”.
Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart said the uneven distribution of training camps reflected wider concerns over whether the Games would benefit the entire country. He added: “We have seen this with many things including contracts awarded and now training camps. Westminster Governments have tried to define these Games as a national event but, although I am sure they will be spectacular, they will be basically an Olympics for London.”
A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport insisted the Olympics would bring benefits to the whole of the UK.
He said: “The torch relay will shine the spotlight on communities up and down the country.
“The Olympic build project has also had contracts won by companies from a variety of regions. We are completely committed to spreading the benefits of hosting London 2012 far and wide.”Tagged in: CAMP, flame, olympic, torch, training
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