Olympic Organizer Speaks Out on UK Riots for First Time

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Sebastian Coe touched on the fiery subject of the London riots for the first time Thursday, saying there are “lessons to be learned” from the recent unrest that broke out in the host city for the 2012 Olympics.

Sebastian Coe on London Riots

Sebastian Coe on London Riots

The London organizing committee chairman had been avoiding the topic since violence broke out in north London on Saturday, but he ended his silence following days of meetings with an International Olympic Committee coordination commission and other Olympic officials.

“There are lessons to be learned and over the next year we will continue our contingency plans,” Coe said at Wembley Arena, where the world badminton championships are serving as a test event for next year’s Olympics. “They will deal with all sorts of things including public disorder.”

Coe, a two-time Olympic champion and former member of Parliament, said he has spoken with IOC President Jacques Rogge and other sports leaders about the riots and said they do not believe the image of the 2012 Games will be hurt by the violence.

“They know that things from time to time come out of left field in cities. Effectively within two days we had that under control,” Coe said.

The riots began in the Tottenham neighborhood less than two weeks after London celebrated the one-year countdown to the opening of the games on July 27, 2012. They soon spread to other parts of London and to other British cities, forcing Prime Minister David Cameron to cut short his summer vacation in Italy to deal with the crisis.

Although several football matches, including England’s friendly with the Netherlands, have been canceled or postponed because of the four days of unrest, Olympic test events have gone ahead with very little problems.

The badminton worlds in northwest London have been unaffected, but the first day of the beach volleyball competition at Horse Guards Parade in central London on Tuesday was stopped a few hours early to allow everyone to get home before dark.

Other scheduled test events this week include a cycling road race that will go through the streets of London on Sunday and a marathon swimming competition at Hyde Park on Saturday.

The closest the violence came to the Olympic Park was on Monday when rioting spread to Hackney, about 4 miles from the site that includes the main Olympic Stadium and other key venues.

“I am neither sanguine nor cavalier about the disfiguring images which were beamed around the world,” Coe said. “But at the same time we have had test events up and running quickly.”

On Tuesday, the IOC stood up for Coe and his organizing committee, saying “we’re happy with how local organizers are dealing with the issue and we are confident they will do a good job.”

The smooth running of the test events has gone a long way to proving to the IOC that next year’s games will be hard to disrupt.

“We have the leadership of the IOC with us and it is important for them to see that while we have had our challenges in London, these events have gone on in an orderly and timely way,” Coe said. “They recognize that in very difficult circumstances we have managed to deliver what we set out to do. I am happy that we are on time and on track.”

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