- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

LONDON (AP) - As the Olympic world gathers in Denver this week amid the global economic crisis, few are feeling the squeeze more than the organizers of the next Summer Olympics in London in 2012.

Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee, headed to the United States on Monday vowing to reassure international Olympic leaders that the 2012 project remains safely on track despite the financial pressures.

“I don’t need to tell anyone in that room that these are extraordinary times,” Coe told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday. “Not since the 1970s has a winter or summer games been delivered under such a sudden change in economic circumstances.

“We started the process in an economy that arguably was as buoyant as at any time in the last 80 years and are now delivering the games when the fragility of the financial markets is at a level most people can’t remember in living memory.”

The recession forms the backdrop to the SportAccord convention and International Olympic Committee executive board meetings in Denver, the biggest gathering of international sports officials in the United States since the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

More than 1,000 delegates are expected to attend the conference, which will feature key public presentations Wednesday by the four candidates for the 2016 Olympics _ Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.

Among the key groups meeting in Denver is the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, which represents the 26 sports on the program of the London Games. That’s where Coe will be directing his message.

“I’ll try to set the record straight in a few key areas,” Coe said. “There’s always a certain amount of mythology and rumor and counter rumor about the delivery of any games.”

The financial downturn, he stressed, “is not impacting on us in terms of scaling back on our commitment to deliver a great games.”

“We are not perfect, nor are we complacent,” Coe said. “No one says this is a risk-free process. But halfway through this project, we are absolutely _ in everything we are doing _ where we want to be.”

Despite the pressures, London organizers remain confident they will come within the $13.6 billion budget for venues, infrastructure and regeneration. The figure is more than double the original estimate.

At the same time venue costs have gone up, private funding has gone dry for some projects, including the Olympic village.

But Coe said London had benefited by finalizing key business deals before the credit crisis and by “judicious use” of Olympic contingency funds.

London signed multimillion dollar domestic sponsorship deals with Lloyds TSB bank, British Airways and oil company BP, all before the financial crunch hit.

The British government has released $651 million in contingency funds to pay for the athletes’ village and the international media center due to the shortfall in private financing.

Work has now started on the village, which will house 17,000 athletes and coaches during the games.

“Of all people, I know that the village is more than simply a bed and a room for three weeks,” Coe said. “It’s a home, it’s a sanctuary.”

Construction on the main Olympic stadium is ahead of schedule as organizers push ahead with transforming a derelict area of east London into one of the biggest urban parks in Europe.

The IOC, meanwhile, has secured $900 million in revenues so far from nine global sponsors for the Vancouver and London Games. TV rights deals are also in place. The IOC still hopes to sign up to two more sponsors and surpass the $1 billion mark.

“The fact that the Olympic movement is still punching its weight under these circumstances is testament to the strength of the brand,” Coe said.

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