London Update -- Phillips Doubts Greenwich Venue; Government Olympic Wages Soar

(ATR) Queen’s eventing granddaughter calls for switch of 2012 equestrian venue … Politicians criticize wage bill for London Games

Zara Phillips, the Queen's granddaughter, is joining the growing criticism over locating the 2012 equestrian venue in Greenwich. (FEI)Zara Phillips, the Queen’s granddaughter, joins critics of using Greenwich Park as venue for equestrian events at the 2012 Olympics.

The royal park to the south of the River Thames was once the hunting grounds of her ancestor, Henry VIII, but the 2006 eventing world champion has added her voice to concerns about the suitability and sporting legacy of the proposed venue.

“What is annoying is that they put something there and then take it all down afterwards,” Phillips said. “What's the point of that?”

Phillips’s mother is Princess Anne, an IOC member, who competed as an eventer at the 1976 Olympics and is an influential former president of FEI, equestrian’s world body. Her father, Mark Phillips, won the eventing gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Phillips, 27, is particularly keen to make the most of the London Olympics, after injuries to her leading horse, Toytown, prevented her competing at the 2004 and 2008 Games.

Noting that the rowing and flatwater canoeing events are to be staged west of London at Eton, Phillips suggested using another of her family backyards, Windsor Great Park. “Windsor has had horse trials. The rowing is out there, so it's not like it's miles away.”

The campaign group No to Greenwich Olympic Equestrian Events (NOGOE) argues that the proposal to build a 23,000-seat arena and four-mile cross-country course, which will involve closing Greenwich Park for nearly a year, risks damaging a UNESCO World Heritage site while leaving no physical legacy for the sport.

Last year, a review by auditors KPMG commissioned by Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell concluded that there was no financial justification for moving equestrian events and the modern pentathlon from Greenwich.

NOGOE is expected to raise legal and environmental issues over the use of the park and dispute the obligatory planning application later this year.

The British Equestrian Federation selected Greenwich as its preferred Olympic venue in 2003, seeking to stage equestrianism close to the heart of the Games and delivering an iconic setting which has already won strong approval from NBC and other Games broadcasters.

The BEF’s original feasibility study budgeted for costs of less than $10 million, in stark contrast to the purpose-built equestrian venue outside Athens for the 2004 Games which cost $150 million and has been sparingly used since.

“We are working closely with the Royal Parks to ensure there is no long-term impact,” a LOCOG spokeswoman said, “and we have guaranteed that we will work our way around sensitive areas, and not cut down any trees. We believe that Greenwich Park is the best venue for the equestrian events.”

Government Olympic Wage Bill Rockets

The wage bill for government employees working on the London Olympics has more than doubled since 2006, according to figures provided by Tessa Jowell to parliamentary questions this week.

The number of civil servants working in the Government Olympic Executive has doubled to 70 in the past year and will increase again to around 100 before 2012.

“At a time of severe economic recession, it is extraordinary that the cost of paying civil servants working on London 2012 has risen by over a third in one year alone,” said opposition Olympics spokesman Hugh Robertson. “We receive a considerable number of complaints that the GOE is overstaffed and these figures support that viewpoint.”

The wage bill at GOE rose from $2.5 million in 2006-07, to $4.3 million in 2007-2008, to $5.8 million for the year ending in February.

Jowell defended the GOE, saying it is “the only organization overseeing the entire Olympic project... ensuring the Games are delivered within the £9.3 billion [$12.8 billion] public sector funding provision.”

Further criticism from MPs has come because of the bonuses to LOCOG's CEO, Paul Deighton, is scheduled to receive a $450,000 performance bonus this year. (Getty Images)be paid Paul Deighton, chief executive of LOCOG.

Deighton is expected to collect a $450,000 loyalty and performance bonus on top of his $700,000 salary for staying in his job for the past two years. He has been instrumental in helping to raise $750 million in sponsorship towards LOCOG’s $3 billion target for commercial revenue.

MPs attacked the figures, saying that Olympics wages should not be immune to the recession.

Deighton, a former investment banker, is entitled to a maximum 75 percent of his salary again in bonuses, or about $3 million, if he remains for the six years of the project.

“Bonuses are awarded for company performance,” a LOCOG spokeswoman said. “If we weren't performing, there would be no bonuses - and these bonuses are from LOCOG's private funds and are not funded by the taxpayer.”

Concerns over Ticketing Contract

There is disquiet among companies short-listed for the London 2012 ticketing supply deal because of suspicions that major player Ticketmaster may have an advantage as its former executive, Paul Williamson, was appointed by LOCOG to take charge of ticket sales.

Selling London 2012’s nine million tickets represents the biggest contract of its kind, although Ticketmaster may have blotted its reputation on both sides of the Atlantic.

In England, the Rugby Football Union, which employs Ticketmaster as official distributors, is seeking to prevent the agency from offering high-demand Six Nations tournament tickets on Ticketmaster’s in-house secondary ticketing site, GETMEIN.

In the U.S., Ticketmaster has been forced to apologize to Bruce Springsteen after tickets for his shows were sold on another secondary market site also owned by them, TicketsNow.

Selling 2012 Olympics tickets on the secondary market would be illegal.

A London 2012 spokeswoman maintained that Williamson will have no vote on the decision-making committee set up to avoid conflicts of interest.

Sport Security under Review

Following last week’s terrorist attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Pakistan, the sport’s officials will meet with the U.K. government to review security arrangements for this summer's Twenty20 World Cup in England. The outcome of the discussions are certain to impact security considerations for the 2012 Olympics.

The World Twenty20, which takes place from June 5-21 at grounds including 2012 archery venue Lord’s, is the first tournament to bring together teams from around the world since last week’s attack.

Other sporting organizers are expected to review security plans following the attack, which left eight dead and seven players and officials injured. David Morgan, president of the International Cricket Council, said that the attacks, which directly targeted athletes for the first time since the 1972 Munich Olympics, had “completely changed the landscape” for sport.

Briefs…

… Ann-Louise Morgan has been named LOCOG’s manager of 14 Olympic and four Paralympic rowing events at the Eton Dorney Lake. Matt Smith, executive director of the International Rowing Federation, said: “The appointment of Ann-Louise is perfect for us. She worked as the event manager for three years leading to our 2006 world championships at Eton Dorney. She knows this venue well and all that is involved with organizing a major event there. Her previous Olympic and Commonwealth Games experience puts her in an ideal position to carry out her role of LOCOG’s rowing manager.” Morrison Construction has been awarded the contract to build the whitewater canoeing venue at Broxbourne. (London 2012)

… Morrison Construction was today awarded the contract by the Olympic Delivery Authority to build the whitewater canoeing venue at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire. Work at the site begins in June. “The constructors must develop a challenging Olympic course and develop a community facility which will provide a new experience for beginners,” said LOCOG chair Sebastian Coe.

Written by Steven Downes

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