London 2012: 500 days to go

Next year's Olympic Games in London will be an occasion to remind ourselves of our humanity, writes Andrew Mitchell, British Ambassador to Sweden and FCO Director for the London 2012 Games.

London 2012: 500 days to go
Image: London 2012/British Embassy Stockholm

Today’s a landmark day. In just 500 days the 2012 Olympic Games will open in London. And London will host the Games exactly a hundred years after Stockholm. Our nations are bound together by many things, not least a passion for sport and a commitment to the Olympic spirit.

Thousands of Swedes will come to London to watch the spectacle and the values that brought the athletes together a century ago – the quest for excellence, the sense that sport was a way to bring people together – will bring Swedes, Britons and people from many nations together in London in 500 days.

The modern world needs sport as much as the world of 1912. A hundred years ago Europe was on the verge of war. Today modern technology brings images of natural disasters and political conflict direct to our homes, from Japan, New Zealand and Libya, from China to Iran.

So the Olympics and Paralympics are an important opportunity for the global community to get together to remind ourselves of our humanity. The Games are a space for celebrating the indomitable human spirit and the diversity of people and nations. The Games can’t solve the world’s problems but they can offer hope, and confidence that in acting together the world can overcome the challenges it faces.

One of these challenges is the threat of disastrous climate change. That is why it is so important that London 2012 sets the example. These Olympics will be a platform for sustainability and green technology. The 2012 Olympic park design has energy efficiency at its core, providing a blue print for sustainable living. 90% of the material from buildings demolished to prepare the site has been channelled back into construction and we have planted 20,000 trees providing a new lung for the city of London, a new habitat for wildlife and a new haven of relaxation for Londoners. Our preparations are well under way, with our stunning new parkland development, the largest in Europe, already three quarters complete.

Accessibility and diversity have been vital to the design and construction of the buildings, open spaces and public transport; ensuring all can fully enjoy the spectacle of the Games. I am pleased to say that we expect 2 million spectators for the Paralympic games in 2012, a 16 fold increase since its inception in 1960. The Paralympics will be a fantastic opportunity to transform global attitudes of disabled people through a showcase of unrivalled disability sport.

The Games also provide the opportunity to connect with young people across the globe through the power of sport. In Singapore we made a pledge to do so and have launched the International Inspiration programme to give 12 million children in 20 countries access to high quality and inclusive physical education, sport and play. It has already reached more than 7 million children globally and over 300 schools in the UK have built partnerships with counterparts around the world as part of the programme.

This will not be the first time that London has been selected to host the Olympics and, in fact, has done so more times than any other city and on each occasion has sought to make a lasting contribution to the Olympic movement. In was in London in 1908 that games athletes paraded for the first time under their national flag and events held to coincide with the 1948 London Games would later give birth to the Paralympic movement. In 2012 we intend to honour this tradition of innovation by organising games that are more environmentally sustainable, accessible and inclusive than ever.

So whether you are a sports fan, a business person or simply someone with an interest in making the world a bit better, I look forward to seeing you in London in 500 days.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Could Scandinavian countries lead the way in taking stand against Qatar World Cup?

Vehemently opposed to Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup, football federations in the Nordic countries are putting pressure on Doha and FIFA to improve conditions for migrant workers in the emirate.

Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event.
Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Together with rights organisation Amnesty International, the federations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland have ratcheted up the pressure in recent months, raising their concerns and presenting recommendations in letters, meetings with officials and pre-game protests.

“We are against holding the World Cup in Qatar, we thought it was a bad decision,” the head of the Danish federation DBU, Jakob Jensen, told AFP.

“It is wrong in many ways. Because of the human rights situation, the environment, building new stadiums in a country with very little stadium capacity,” he said.

Denmark is the only Nordic country to have qualified for the tournament so far. Sweden face a playoff next year to secure a place and Norway, Finland and Iceland have been eliminated.

Leading the charge, the Danish federation regularly publishes the Nordic countries’ letters sent to FIFA and holds talks with Qatari officials, including an October meeting with Qatar head organiser Hassan Al-Thawadi.

The main concern is migrant workers’ rights.

Qatar has faced criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, many of whom are involved in the construction of the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure.

Campaigners accuse employers of exploitation and forcing labourers to work in dangerous conditions.

Qatari authorities meanwhile insist they have done more than any country in the region to improve worker welfare, and reject international media reports about thousands of workers’ deaths.

The Nordics have also raised other concerns with al-Thawadi, Jensen said.

“Will homosexuals be allowed to attend the World Cup? Will men and women be able to attend the matches together? Will the press have free access to all sorts of issues to do investigations in the country?”

“And all the answers we received were ‘yes’. So of course we’re going to hold him responsible for that,” Jensen said.

The Danish federation said its World Cup participation would focus on the games played on the pitch, and it will not do anything to promote the event for organisers.

It will limit the number of trips it makes to Qatar, the team’s commercial partners will not take part in official activities there, and its two jersey sponsors will allow training kit to carry critical messages.

In Norway, whose qualification bid fell apart when its best player Erling Braut Haaland missed games through injury, the issue culminated in June when its federation held a vote on whether to boycott the World Cup.

READ ALSO: Norway’s economic police call for boycott of Qatar World Cup

Delegates ultimately voted against the idea, but an expert committee recommended 26 measures, including the creation of a resource centre for migrant workers and an alert system to detect human rights violations and inform the international community.

Like other teams, Norway’s squad also protested before each match by wearing jerseys or holding banners like the one unfurled during a recent match against Turkey, reading “Fair play for migrant workers”.

But the Nordic countries have not always acted in line with their own campaign.

Last month at a Copenhagen stadium, a Danish fan was ordered to take down his banner criticising the World Cup in Qatar, as FIFA rules prohibit political statements.

And Sweden’s federation recently scratched plans to hold its winter training camp in the emirate as it has done the past two years.

Sweden’s professional clubs had protested against the hypocrisy of holding the camp there while at the same the federation was leading the protests with Nordic counterparts.

The professional clubs wanted to send a “signal”, the chairman of Swedish Professional Football Leagues, Jens Andersson, told AFP.

Individual players have also spoken out. 

Finland’s captain Tim Sparv last week issued a joint appeal with Amnesty demanding that “FIFA must ensure that human rights are respected”, adding: “We are in debt to those people who have worked for years in poor conditions.”

So far, none of FIFA’s 200 other member federations have joined the Nordic campaign.

“Hopefully all these Nordic neighbours of ours and us taking these steps will have an impact on other countries,” Mats Enquist, secretary general of the Swedish Professional Football League, told AFP.

“We need to ensure that all the aspects of football, not just the richest, are really taken care of when we come to a place.”