(AFP) – Aug 9, 2008
LONDON (AFP) — As the Beijing Olympics get into full swing this week, hundreds of British officials are in China to see how they are run -- and grapple with how to do even better when London hosts the Games in 2012.
They will be visiting key sites and meeting Chinese organisers to see how they cope with the influx of 15,000 visiting athletes, 20,000 journalists and tens of thousands more supporters.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown -- who steered clear of Friday's opening spectacular -- and London Mayor Boris Johnson will join them for the August 24 closing ceremony, when London will be handed the Olympic mantle.
The London team has faced criticism over the number of officials in Beijing -- Liberal Democrats suggested it was a "junket", while others have questioned how much London can learn from Beijing, particularly given the huge budget difference for the two games.
Beijing is reportedly set to spend over 20 billion pounds (25 billion euros, 39 billion dollars) on what will likely be the most expensive games ever.
By contrast, London's initial budget of 3.4 billion pounds has nearly trebled to 9.3 billion pounds.
Even that amount has prompted some Britons, who still remember the problems which dogged previous grand projects like Wembley Stadium and the Millennium Dome, to question whether the games are worth it.
Paul Deighton, the chief executive of London organising committee LOCOG, has apparently tried to play down expectations.
"I think the Beijing Games could end up being unique -- I'm not sure how many other countries would have either the resources or the control of the resources to be able to put them behind an event like this," he said in comments quoted by British media.
"I think London is much more likely to be the model for the games in the future."
Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell insisted that London can host "the greatest games ever in our own way".
"I wouldn't be afraid or daunted by these big figures or the scale of what you see in China. Just hold faith with the great games that we're going to host in London in just four years' time," she told Sky News television.
Jowell also stressed the importance of the legacy of London's Olympics through the regeneration of run-down east London and improved health for young people who ministers hope will do more sport because of the games.
Security and transport are likely to be among the main issues which officials look at while they are out in Beijing.
Security looms particularly large for London because on July 7, 2005, the day after the announcement it had won the 2012 games, 52 commuters were killed in attacks by four British Islamist suicide bombers on the city's public transport system.
China is rolling out a tight security operation as officials warn that Islamic militants are trying to strike. An attack in the restive northwest Xinjiang region last week killed 16 policemen.
But given the different political contexts in China and Britain, plus the chasm between the budgets, some commentators believe it could be difficult for London 2012 officials to learn much from visiting Beijing.
James Kennell of London's University of Greenwich Business School, which hosted a conference on the games this year, said London would struggle to learn direct lessons even from other Western Olympic cities like Athens and Sydney.
"I don't think there's a lot of learning to be had from previous host cities because every host city is different," he said.
"One of the things China is showing is if you throw money and people at it, you can deliver on time and it will look fantastic. Nobody's going to be able to repeat that in the near future."
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