While London looks forward to welcoming the world to its Olympics, much of that world has been busy making sure it will feel right at home in one year’s time.
Prime locations and historic premises are being snapped up all across the city by nations, sponsors and international sporting bodies eager to make their own mark once the global circus hits town in July 2012, and to have fitting venues to celebrate their own achievements.
Summer project: The ArcelorMittal Orbit is a 114.5m under-construction steel tower, being built for the London Olympics. AP
From the monumental Marble Arch in the west to a dried-out medieval moat around the Tower of London in the east, would-be temporary tenants are queuing up to get their hands on a piece of the city.
“So far we’ve helped over 50 NOCs (National Olympic Committees) and NPCs (National Paralympic Committees),” says Zanine Adams, head of event solutions for London and Partners, London’s official promotional agency.
“We hope to attract such a huge number of visitors from all over the world and this is a great platform for them to showcase their countries, especially those that perhaps haven’t ever done anything like this before,” she says.
It is also a great platform for promoting Britain and a tourism industry worth about £90 billion (around Rs 6.45 trillion) to the economy. Now, with the clock ticking into the final year, is the key period for those coming in to lock down deals and put the infrastructure in place.
“They need to get cracking if they haven’t got there yet,” says Adams, who blanches at the idea of being compared with an estate agent and prefers to be compared with an “international dating agency” matching up partners.
“We are plugged into the GLA (Greater London Authority) to know what the police are doing, the transport systems, the NHS (National Health Service), and we need to feed all this information in to them,” says Adams. “If they need a licence or a road closure, or a late licence, it needs to be in by this summer. Otherwise there’s a risk (of not getting it).”
The Russians, hosts of the next Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, have made the biggest splash with a plan to turn Marble Arch, a gleaming white landmark on a traffic island on the edge of the green acres of Hyde Park, into a spectacular winter wonderland.
Sochi World will, subject to all permissions being granted, offer an ice rink in the heart of London in July and August next year as well as a hospitality pavilion and visitor experience centre.
“While there will be a significant emphasis on culture, the ice rink will highlight sporting performance,” Sochi 2014 president Dmitry Chernyshenko said in a recent statement. “Russian figure-skating stars will give masterclasses for young British skaters, who in turn will be invited to participate in the Sochi World ice shows.”
Not to be outdone, the Dutch will entertain at North London’s Alexandra Palace—the “Ally Pally” or “People’s Palace” which opened in 1873 and from where the nation’s first public television transmissions were made in 1936.
Their Holland House, sponsored by the Games’ official lager supplier Heineken, will cater for up to 20,000 visitors.
Italy will have a Casa Italia at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in the shadow of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. “They are really going for Rome 2020, so this is a great opportunity for them to showcase Italy to the world,” says Adams.
“They will show off the different regions, they will have their sponsors doing exhibition displays, there will be restaurants, entertainment, and it’s open to the public to really taste and experience the hospitality of Italy,” adds Adams.
France has secured the City of London’s Old Billingsgate market, which can take 2,000 guests in one hit, to show off French produce and all things Gallic.
Brazil, hosts of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, will bring a carnival atmosphere to the neoclassical surroundings of Somerset House, a central venue already used for fashion shows, winter skating and summer concerts.
There will be a Jamaica Village (www.myjamaicavillage.com) in north London’s Finsbury Park, while a piece of Switzerland is to be created at Glaziers Hall, next to London Bridge station and the popular Borough Market.
On a smaller scale, Georgia will move into a historic building around the corner from the Tate museum, while the Americans are trying to keep their plans very much to themselves. “I can’t (disclose where it will be),” says Adams. “It’s a bit of a security risk. It’s possibly London’s worst-kept secret, but I wouldn’t want to draw attention to it. They will be private.”
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