Coe defends cost of staging Olympic football in Newcastle - The Northern Echo

Coe defends cost of staging Olympic football in Newcastle

LORD Coe has defended the costs associated with staging Olympic football matches in Newcastle, and expressed confidence that the North-East will get the 2012 Games off to a flying start.

St James' Park will stage nine matches as part of the Olympic football tournament, with two of the games, on Thursday, July 26, coming 24 hours before the opening ceremony in Stratford.

The Great Britain team will not be involved in any of the games, but with strict regulations governing security and access during the Olympic period, Newcastle City Council has been forced to commit a considerable sum to securing St James' Park's status as a host venue.

Despite the award of a £270,000 grant from the Government Olympic Executive to dress Newcastle in order to make it "look and feel consistent with other host venues", the council has still had to ring-fence a £400,000 Olympic budget.

The expenditure comes at a time when councillors are having to make stringent cuts to a number of key services, but Coe insists the costs can be justified.

"Cities function through difficult economic times and better periods," he said. "I'm a great believer that you don't just close a city for business.

"The Great North Run comes through Newcastle every year and I am sure there are costs involved with hosting that event, but that's what good cities absorb and people recognise that.

"They want to know their city is staging events like this, and I think bringing the Olympic Games to Newcastle, by way of a major sport such as football, is very important."

Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle City Council, agrees, and claims a tough economic climate should not prevent Newcastle seizing a golden opportunity to market itself to the rest of the world.

"The Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Newcastle and penny-pinching shouldn't get in the way of us putting on really good events," he said.

"People will remember what happens here for the rest of their lives, and it's a chance to put Newcastle and the North-East on an international stage.

"What we do here will be seen right around the world, and that's an investment that's worth making."

In many ways, what happens in Newcastle will establish the tone for the rest of the Games, as the men's double-header on July 26 will be one of the first sessions of Olympic action and will precede the start of the Olympic competition in London.

Having missed out on Team GB, North-East officials are lobbying hard to secure a match involving a leading overseas nation such as Brazil or Spain.

That would help generate interest, as it is feared that a double-header involving less appealing countries could result in one of the Olympics' opening events being played out in front of a half-empty St James'.

Coe accepts there are risks involved in selecting a stadium that seats more than 52,000 people, but is confident the North-East's passion for football will help ensure a healthy attendance.

"I am confident that given the contribution this city has made to domestic and international football in the past, there will be huge support for the Olympic matches," said Coe.

"Every young person I have spoken to up here is passionate about football. We've got large stadiums, and when we took that decision, we knew there would be a challenge.

"We wanted iconic stadiums that are known the world over, and when we did that, we knew we would have a ticket challenge. But I do think we have struck the right balance."

And while Sir Alex Ferguson recently argued that the British Olympic team should not include anyone named in England's Euro 2012 squad, even if they do not play a game in Poland and Ukraine, Coe is confident Stuart Pearce will be able to select a strong side.

"There are a lot of players who will want to play in the Olympic Games, and there are a lot of managers who will think it's an important part of a player's development," said the former Olympic champion.

"I went to the Olympic final in Athens (in 2004) to watch Argentina and Lionel Messi was playing, basically making his international debut. There's a great opportunity for young players to make their mark in a tournament like this."

30 Nov, 2011

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