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'The Olympics are a huge stimulus to the economy'

Jeremy Hunt, Britain's Minister of Culture and Sports, and shadow minister with the same portfolio for three years before that, is overseeing preparations for the 2012 London Olympics and is readying for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He talked to Pramit Pal Chaudhuri about his experiences with and thoughts about holding international sporting events.

india Updated: Jul 30, 2010 23:42 IST
Pramitpal Chaudhuri

Jeremy Hunt, Britain's Minister of Culture and Sports, and shadow minister with the same portfolio for three years before that, is overseeing preparations for the 2012 London Olympics and is readying for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He talked to Pramit Pal Chaudhuri about his experiences with and thoughts about holding international sporting events.

On preparations for the 2012 London Olympics.

We have completed 65 per cent of the construction. Eighty per cent of the contracts have been signed. We should finish all our construction one year earlier than scheduled. And, depending on how you measure it, we are within budget.

On their impact on the British economy.

The Olympics have been a huge stroke of luck. They are a huge stimulus to the economy, taking place just as Britain is in one of its worst recessions. The London Olympics are the biggest construction project in Europe right now.

On the public reaction to the expenditure.

Not unlike what India is experiencing over the Commowealth Games, there is criticism as to whether, for a few weeks' of entertainment, it is worth spending so much money. What will we be left with when it's over? The construction will help rebuild east London, places like Stratford City, full of power stations and wasteland. Thirteen of the 15 poorest electoral wards of London surround the Olympic complex. After the Olympics this area will have, among other things, the largest shopping complex in Western Europe, employing 18000 people and covering 290 acres.

On the Olympics' impact on sports.

We hope the Olympics will leave a sporting legacy in that area. The Olympic stadium will be converted into a football stadium after 2012. We're hope the stardust of the Olympics will inspire our youngsters to play more sports. Only three out of 10 British school kids play competitive sport today. We have found children love big sports stadiums. They tend to fire people up.

On the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

You have just over 60 days to go. I toured some of the facilities. There are lots of last minute preparation and some hiccups still to be sorted out. All such games, from my experience, follow a certain cycle. There is great excitement when you win the right to stage the games, then in the runup to the actual event there is a dip in support as the arguments buildup and the traffic is disrupted, and then there is a wave of excitement again when the games actually begin.

On the lack of star power at the Commonwealth Games.

As a government, Britain does not decided what individual sports federation do in terms of participation. The problem, as I understand it, seems to lie in the timing of the Commonwealth Games and how they don't contribute to the rankings of the international stars. I would like to resolve this issue. We have a stake, the Commonwealth Games after Delhi are in Glasgow, and attracting big names will be a challenge for us as well. We have begun trying to see how we can firmly root the games in the international sports calendar.

Advice to any government that wants to stage the Olympics.

First, get the sums right. Two years after Britain won the bidding for the Olympics we had to triple the budget. Second, give some thought to the eventual dip in public support. London hasn't seen as much of a dip as expected because of the message of the games: that this as much about the legacy of transforming east London as it is about the glory of the event.