| LONDON, June 13
LONDON, June 13 Cash-strapped Britain has almost
half a billion pounds ($775 million) left unspent in its Olympic
budget, the sports minister said on Wednesday, adding that
London's transport system would cope with huge crowds during the
Public funding for the Games has increased to 9.3 billion
pounds, more than double the figure anticipated when London was
awarded them in 2005. The Olympics are being held at a time of
deep spending cuts by the Conservative-led government.
"We are becoming increasingly certain that we can deliver
these Games for under 9 billion and if we could do that, that
would be a remarkable achievement," Sports Minister Hugh
Robertson told reporters on Wednesday.
The government has made an additional 19 million pounds
available to help manage crowds at venues and revellers in
central London during the July 27-August 12 Games after the
success of last week's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
"Nobody knows how many people are simply going to turn up.
London is going to be the place this summer - if the rain holds
off - to come and have a party," Robertson said.
The numbers of visitors to central London during last week's
celebrations to mark Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne
had "surprised on the upside", Robertson said, noting enthusiasm
for the Olympic torch on its relay through the British isles.
The minister said that London's much criticised public
transport system would not buckle under the strain. Londoners
are being encouraged to work from home or change their working
hours to help ease the pressure.
"We are confident that the transport plan absolutely will
hold," he said, adding that there would inevitably be queues at
bottlenecks on the underground and other rail systems.
Robertson ruled out using any of the remaining contingency
funds to pay off London bus drivers who are threatening to
strike in a dispute over bonuses for work during the Games.
"The hope and expectation is that this will be sorted out
before the Games start. Most people realise this is a great
national moment and they don't want to mess it up," he said.
Mired in recession, Britain sees the Games as a showcase for
its business potential. However, credit ratings agency Moody's
said last month that hosting the world's biggest sporting event
would give the economy and British companies only a short-term
Robertson said Britain's success in winning the right to
host future sports events was a tangible economic benefit.
"If you look at the number of major sports events that are
now coming to this country in the period after 2012, British
sport has never had a period like this," he said.
"There is at least one major competition and a series of
other world championships to come here every year, running
through pretty much until 2020."
Glasgow will stage the Commonwealth Games in 2014, England
hosts the rugby union World Cup in 2015 and the world athletics
championships will be held at the Olympic Stadium in east London
Security fears around the Games were heightened when a
protester jumped into the Thames in April during the annual
Oxford-Cambridge university boat race.
Seeking to deter a repeat, Robertson stressed the sheer
physical danger of stepping into the path of speeding Olympic
"If any idiot runs out in front of the road race, they are
risking committing suicide," he said.
($1 = 0.6432 British pounds)
(Editing by Alison Wildey)