Posted on 07 February 2012.
LONDON, Feb 1 – Some of Britain’s poorest regions are battling each other and neighboring France to boost their local economies by hosting Olympic athletes at training camps before this year’s Games.
Britain has budgeted to spend 9.3 billion pounds ($ 14.68 billion) on staging the Olympic and Paralympic Games, mostly on facilities in London, and the capital is expected to hog most of the benefits.
But regional authorities dealing with government funding cuts and high unemployment rates want a slice of the cake.
“Clearly it’s difficult times that the country is going through in terms of austerity but the Olympics are a once in a lifetime opportunity so we have to find a way to make the most of that opportunity,” said Rob Young, 2012 Games regional coordinator for northwest England.
“It’s a case of trying to take the glass half-full approach.”
Britain is economically divided between a wealthier south, especially London, and the relatively poorer north, where many economic and unemployment “blackspots” can be found.
Aware of the economic disparity, British Olympic organizers – the London Organizing Committee (LOCOG) – have tried to spread the benefits to eight English regions outside London and to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
LOCOG offers a grant worth up to 25,000 pounds for every Olympic and Paralympic Committee that chooses to base their athletes in British regions prior to the Games in July and August.
But Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), quasi-governmental organizations put in charge of attracting international Olympic Committees to Britain, have been cut as Prime Minister David Cameron’s government tries to reduce a ballooning public sector.
Regional coordinators such as Young, who were employed by the RDAs, have continued to work out of hollowed offices as the agencies were being disbanded and staff laid off.
But their attempts to persuade international athletes to train and spend money in British regions has been made harder by French authorities who saw an opportunity to do the same.
Dominique Dupilet, head of the local council for Pas-de-Calais, a region only 21 miles from England’s coast, said France had invested around 100 million euros ($ 130.91 million) in regional sports, infrastructure and tourism facilities to attract athletes and tourists to visit before and during the Olympics Games.
Dupilet caused a stir when he put out a video, widely quoted amongst British media, saying “the second the Olympic games were announced for London we hoisted the British flag at (Pas-de-Calais) council”.
With just over an hour on the train to London, Calais is closer to London than many British regions.
“In 2011, 40 countries, including France, benefited from our ’2012- facilities – some 2,500 athletes from all disciplines,” said Dupilet, underlining Calais sports facility credentials.
But with the 25,000 pound LOCOG grant application deadline set to expire at the end of February, British regional coordinators are hoping to persuade a handful more countries to base themselves in Britain and shun France, which does not offer a similar reward.
“For the smaller nations, the feedback is that the grant has been critical for them in terms of being able to do these sorts of programs,” said Young, citing the case of northwest England hosting a boxing team from Nauru, the world’s smallest republic with population of around 10,000.
It is impossible to quantify exactly how much training camps contribute economically, but anecdotal and circumstantial evidence suggests they provide a significant boost.
“Our conservative estimate for Games-related business contracts (in the region) is around 390 million pounds,” said Tracy Croft, regional coordinator for the east Midlands in central England.
A case-study examining spending by the Australian swimming team – which agreed to use Manchester as a training camp for the 2009 World Championships, 2012 Olympics and 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games – estimates the local economy will benefit by up to one million pounds in net spend by the Australian squad.
“Alongside the direct economic benefits of the training camp, the region benefited indirectly from the training camp, as the team made use of local social and leisure facilities, including visits to the cinema, tickets to local sporting events, eating out, and shopping,” the northwest report said.
However, regional coordinators say the benefits from the training camps stretch beyond boosting local businesses.
“Japan has been using Loughborough University over a period of couple of years and it generally brings a positive influence to the town,” Croft said.
“We’ve been able to do some work with schools around Japanese language and Japanese culture in the region. As well as spend in the local economy, it’s how do you maximize the social impact the visitors and having that link with the country.”
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