LONDON (Reuters) - Athletes en route to the Olympics may end up sharing their special Games Lanes with funeral carriages drawn by plumed horses draped in black velvet.
Funeral directors exasperated by Olympic traffic rules that threaten to delay burial processions suggested they could commandeer the lanes reserved for athletes and officials.
Some have had to draw up contracts with grieving families to make clear the possibility of severe delays.
“If we went down the Olympic lanes in a horse-drawn, what are they going to do - photograph a horse? Fingerprinting?” said John Cribb, director of T. Cribb and Sons, a funeral director partnership run by the same family in east London since 1881.
Traditional east London funerals echo the elaborate customs of the Victorian era, when the coffin, laden with flowers, was placed in a glass-sided carriage and drawn ceremoniously through the streets by black horses.
Funeral organisers have had to make emergency plans to cope with the road closures and traffic light changes imposed as part of the special Olympic Route Network.
When the strict plans were first proposed, funeral directors reacted with disbelief, Cribb said.
“That’s when I said...perhaps we can advise people in (the east London neighbourhoods of) Newham and Tower Hamlets not to die while the Olympics is on,” he recalled.
T. Cribb and Sons, which conducts on average four funerals a day, plan to deploy extra hearses during the Games to reduce the risk of vehicles getting stuck in traffic jams.
Others, such as Haji Taslim Funerals HTF.L, have explicitly warned mourners of the probability of severe delays to their funeral plans.
HTF organises Muslim funerals, which are particularly time-sensitive as tradition dictates funerals happen quickly - many are conducted on the same day as the death.
Company director Moona Taslim said they had not yet experienced any problems with the new traffic rules, but worried that, once the games started, mourners’ careful burial plans might go awry.
“These are people who have just been thrown into turmoil... It’s very hard for them to say ‘oh yes, the Olympic athletes must get to the games’,” Taslim said.
London Olympic organisers (LOCOG) and Transport for London have provided official guidance to funeral directors, while mortuaries have extended their opening times to accommodate probable delays.
“We have been liaising with LOCOG because clearly funerals and deaths will continue throughout the Olympic Games - that is the one certainty,” said John Weir, spokesman for the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors.
While the likelihood of horse-drawn hearses parading down the Olympic route is slim, Cribb said they had been forced to imagine all possible scenarios.
“We were getting rather frustrated with Transport for London at one point and discussed internally trying to get on a bus with a coffin,” he said. (Editing by Toby Davis)