This time next year, Stranraer man Hew Chalmers will be right at the heart of final preparations for the London 2012 Summer Olympics - the greatest sporting spectacle in this country for decades.
Hew has been a board member of the British Olympic Association since the end of last year where he represents the interests of winter sports. He came to the top table sports administration through his vast experience in the world of curling. Hew has competed at the top level as a player, as a coach at European and World Championships as well as managing teams at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympic Games. At the last Winter Games in Vancouver, Hew acted as team manager and coordinator for Team GB and the Curling team. He also represents Scotland on the World Curling Federation and sits on the executive board for European Curling. .
With just under 400 days to go, Hew will periodically update Galloway Gazette readers on the progress of the Olympics, including developments at the Olympic Park in Stratford as well as his role in delivering the Games.
As the BOA are independent of the Government, funded by the private sector, Hew says they can ask awkward questions without fear of compromise. They are dedicated to realising what’s best for sport and leaving a legacy for future generations to be able to play and compete in a range of sports.
At the moment he attends monthly meetings in London which keep the multiple strands of the project together. At these meetings Hew and the other members of the BOA board get an overview of how the many different partners are progressing.
With a budget of £2 billion to stage the Games the aim is to deliver not only an Olympic Games that the country can be proud of but to ensure that when the athletes have departed a sporting and cultural inheritance remains.
The funding for the staging the Games has been raised by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) through sponsorship from corporate bodies such as Visa, Adidas and Coca Cola, ticket sales, merchandise and broadcasting rights.
The building of the venues and the infrastructure is the responsibility of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). This agency is financed by a £9.3billion public sector funding package from the Government, the National Lottery and the Greater London Authority (GLA). With that level of finance one of the most important questions is, at this time of economic hardship, what do we the taxpayer get back?
Hew said: “So far 1500 UK businesses have benefited from the Games through contracts, manufacturing and services, this is particularly heartening at a time of recession. As well as keeping people in jobs 2200 school and colleges across the country will also benefit by becoming involved in the Games’ Get Set education project.
“The Olympic Park is referred to as the Old White City but it is a much bigger industrial area that had some of the most contaminated land in London. But for years no one had the cash to purify the 2.5 square kilometre site, but since the building work began around two million tons of soil has been washed. It took around £220 million to clean up the park before the building work started.
“Part of the legacy of the Olympic Games will be to leave a ‘green space’ behind for both people and wildlife in the Eastlands of London with rivers, canals and gardens. Two thousand mature trees have been planted and 300,000 hand picked wetland plants will flourish on the banks of the River Lee. Plants have also been chosen especially to represent all the Olympic nations.
“Thirty bridges will be built and there will be eight miles of tunnel underground to house all the cables and services. The Tube has been extended with a new Javelin line, this new Stratford stop will be a huge boost for the Kent based commuters as they will eventually be able to access the Docklands Light Railway line by means of a new station and cut down commuting time into the city of London.
“In the athlete village 2,800 new homes are being built to house the competing athletes. When the games are over they will be sold off with 1380 homes classed as affordable housing. Priority will be given to essential workers such as hospital nursing staff and teachers. There will be an Olympic Museum that will be interactive so you will be about to see how high the high jump record is and feel the weight of the shot putt. The Westfield shopping centre close by will have a complete floor dedicated to the Olympics for the duration of the Games where sponsors can network and GB athletes and their families and the Olympic Sport Governing Bodies can socialise. There will also be white-water rafting facilities, a velodrome and a BMX park. In the Olympic village there will be two dining halls that serve food 24 hours a day seating up to 5,000 people.
“This is going to be the largest public park ever created in Europe for over 150 years.”
Hew recognises that many people have been confused about about the way the Olympic tickets have been sold, through a ballot system, and he realises that a lot of people have been left disappointed. He explains that the system was approved to avoid blocks of tickets being sold to the corporate world but there are plans for big screens to be erected in cities all over the country for those who have missed out. For events like the marathon and the road race cycling events there are no restrictions on how many come to watch.
The building work on the stadiums is almost completely on schedule, with only the aquatic centre, which will be shaped like a wave, behind its time lines. There will be a temporary ‘Cube’ created for the basketball and the Opening Ceremony on July 27 next year will take place in the Olympic Stadium which will have a capacity of 80,000. After the Games, the 25,000 permanent seats will remain but the lightweight steel and concrete upper tier can be dismantled afterwards - if required. One million man hours go into the building of the Olympic village housing area every three weeks, and on any given day around 33,000 people can be working or delivering materials within the Olympic Park.
With a potential television audience of four billion and the combination of the best athletes in the world plus Kings, Queens and Heads of State, Hew says it is no surprise to learn that the police will be armed during the games.
Another fundraising idea for the BOA will be special merchandise.
Hew explains: “We have got two pieces of iconic merchandise that will be going on sale in the run up to the Games. BP garages will be giving out Olympic medallions with petrol sales and clothing giant Next will be selling Olympic themed scarves. The hope is to raise over £3 million this way to help fund the British Team at a home games.”
But in all the endeavour to create a site worthy of hosting an Olympic Games there is one structure going up in the Olympic Park that is not connected to any sporting activity.
Indian born, British based billionaire steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal is paying out £19 million for the building of the largest piece of public art in Britain. ‘The Orbit’, when it is finished, will stand 115 metres tall - higher than the Eiffel Tower and this unusual attraction is expected to bring in visitors after the Games with the Olympic Museum sighted close by.
Returning to more prosaic matters, Hew says the most rewarding thing about being involved in the Olympics is helping to leave a sporting legacy behind after Games time that will benefit generations to come.
With 75p in every pound spend going towards the Games legacy, state-of-the-art sports facilities and new transport infrastructures that are being created in east London and beyond it should allow both top class athletes to train and the less talented to simply enjoy participating in sport.
“That’s what I am enjoying most,” said the Stranraer man right at the centre of the Olympic movement.
Look out for further updates in your Galloway Gazette from Hew Chalmers in the run up to London 2012.