(P113) Jowell pleads for Olympics

by Denis Campbell (sports news correspondent), The Observer, Sunday 9 February 2003

Tessa Jowell has urged the Government to back London's bid to stage the 2012 Olympic Games because hosting the event would boost national pride and improve Britain's image around the world.

The Culture, Media and Sport Secretary has delivered a hugely positive assessment of the impact of hosting the Olympics to her Cabinet colleagues ahead of their crucial meeting this Thursday to decide whether to throw the Government's weight behind a campaign for 2012.

Jowell, who has spent months analysing the benefits and problems involved in launching a bid, has concluded that the event would bring enormous rewards for the whole country, especially London.

In a four-page letter to the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues, a copy of which has been obtained by The Observer, Jowell says:

"The Games almost invariably provide a huge boost to national pride and the image of the host country and host city around the world. Even bidding for the Games will help to boost Britain's profile on the world stage and will boost international business by showing that we are a can-do nation that is willing and ready to showcase a modern city."

Holding the world's biggest sporting event in Stratford, a currently rundown part of east London, would aid regeneration there.

"There will be some useful physical, economic and social benefits and we would expect to create a unique sense of national achievement."

Jowell concedes that the cost of staging the Olympics could be high - the main reason why other Cabinet Ministers are cooler about the idea.

"Hosting the Games is not cheap,"she concedes. "But it is hard to put a price on national feelgood."

However, there is only a 10 per cent chance that the staging costs will rise as high as the £2.6bn that Ministers have frequently mentioned.

Without Whitehall backing, the British Olympic Association cannot launch a formal bid to stage the event, against competition from New York, Moscow, Madrid and, probably, Paris.

The public are overwhelmingly in favour, there is only a small risk that the event will run heavily over budget, and Britain has a good chance of winning, she tells her colleagues.

"There is a growing enthusiasm to do so and a realisation... that the Games can be held successfully without damaging or distorting other priorities."

Much will depend on continuing negotiations with Ken Livingstone, the capital's Mayor, about the Greater London Authority paying the bulk of any cost overruns.

The fact that the Queen's Diamond Jubilee would fall in 2012 should help Britain secure the backing of IOC members from Commonwealth countries.

A final decision, already overdue, is "likely but not absolutely certain" to be reached this week. The situation with Iraq may force another postponement.

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13/5/03 Last updated 13/5/03