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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 26, 2009

Olympics: 2 sports close to venue change for London Games

AP Sports Writer

LONDON London Olympic organizers will avoid building a $66 million temporary arena after reaching an "agreement in principle" with two sports to move to an existing venue for the 2012 Games.

Local organizing committee LOCOG proposed switching badminton and rhythmic gymnastics to Wembley Arena adjacent to Wembley Stadium in northwest London rather than construct the planned facility near the Olympic Village in east London.

The move was taken to save money in the wake of the global economic crisis.

Denis Oswald, head of the International Olympic Committee's coordination commission for the London Games, said Thursday that the badminton and gymnastics federations had agreed in principle to the move despite their concerns over the added travel time for their athletes.

"It still has to be formalized," Oswald said. "There is no doubt this question will be resolved in coming weeks. The two federations have been very cooperative and understand it was wise to look for a cheaper solution."

Organizers are offering to put the athletes up in hotels within walking distance of Wembley to avoid the cross-town trips from the Olympic Village in Stratford.

The two sports federations must still get the approval of their governing boards, and the deal must then get final ratification from the IOC.

The IOC had previously hoped to approve the change at its Dec. 8-9 executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. Oswald said he now expects final authorization in the first two months of 2010.

Oswald said the venue change was the result of "exceptional circumstances" brought on by the economic downturn.

"I don't think we can say London went back on their promise," he said. "The two venues are exceptions and we should not forget that training facilities are all very close (to the Village) and athletes spend 90-95 percent of the time training rather than competing."

London organizers have said the trip from the village to Wembley takes about 42 minutes.

"If in two sports the athletes have to travel a little further than expected and can walk from a hotel to the venue I don't think it can be an issue," Oswald said. "We just hope we won't have a world financial crisis every four years."

The preliminary agreement was welcomed by London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has supported the move to Wembley.

"I am pleased and thank the two federations for understanding our concerns to save money wherever we can in these tough economic times," Johnson said in a statement.

Oswald spoke at a news conference at the close of a two-day visit to London, the fifth by his commission since the city was awarded the Olympics in 2005 and the first since last April.

With less than 1,000 days to go until the opening ceremony in 2012, the external structure of the main 85,000-seat Olympic Stadium is complete, the roof has been lowered into place on the aquatics center, and work is well under way on the three other main Olympic Park venues the velodrome, athletes' village and main media center.

"We realize a lot has been done since our last visit," Oswald said. "It's very positive. It starts feeling like the games are taking shape. We are confident about the delivery of excellent Olympic Games in 2012."