London 2012 Olympics: the five questions we really need answered

    Ed Howker, Monday 7 May 2012 13.06 BST   

Of all the eccentric details that have surfaced about Britain’s Olympic planning, this might be my favourite: when, on Saturday, the Ministry of Defence slipped leaflets under residents’ doors in the Lexington Building, an east London housing block from which missiles will be fired should terrorists attack the 2012 Games, the ministry decided that its plans would be best communicated in the form of Frequently Asked Questions. Let’s gloss over the MoD’s assumption that east Londoners would have sufficient familiarity with the Starstreak A5 Missile System for such questions to merit the description “frequent” – noting only that things can get tasty round Mile End on Friday nights – and focus instead on the notion that when a militia places light artillery on the roof of your house you have but a few simply answered questions such as “Will the equipment be noisy?

So far, demands by residents to force the MoD to explain or, better still, recant their choice of missile launch site have been met with po-faced equivocation. Having produced two Channel 4 Dispatches investigations into the London Games, I’m used to this. Be it in the field of hospitality or ticket sales, budgeting concerns or legacy, the 2012 Games is characterised by frequently asked and rarely answered questions. Here are five of the most vexing:

1. Why did so few people who applied for Olympic tickets get them?

In 2010 Lord Coe announced “the daddy of all ticket strategies” in which 75% of all the Olympic tickets would be made available to British sports fans. But there turned out to be a catch – the 75% figure applied to the total number of tickets. At the most popular events, like the men’s 100m final, only 36% have been made available to sports fans. The rest will go to high-rolling sponsors and “hospitality clients”. The single greatest number of tickets available to British sports fans will be for the football tournament held across Britain in several vast stadiums. In truth, we simply don’t know how many tickets were allocated to British sports fans per event as the London organising committee Locog refuse to release the figures until after the Games.

Of course you can still get an Olympic ticket but you have to pay through the nose. Olympic rules stipulate that ticket sales can be marked-up by just 20% of their face value but that hasn’t proved a problem. Coe’s committee handed over approximately 350,000 tickets to organisations like Thomas Cook, Prestige Ticketing and Jet Set Sports who have bundled them together with hotel rooms or hospitality packages and are selling them for a huge profit. So far, the London organisers have offered a slim defence for what feels a little like sanctioned price gouging.

2. Why have the Olympic organisers given a lucrative ticketing licence to Jet Set Sports?

We don’t know the full story. Coe’s committee claim the contract is subject to commercial confidentiality but it does seem strange. Like all the best international corporations, Jet Set Sports is run from a New Jersey PO Box. It is owned by Sead Dizdarevic, the travel operator who admitted handing out cash to Salt Lake City officials in the runup to the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. The money was allegedly used in the notorious attempt to persuade IOC members to award the Games to the city. He was granted immunity in exchange for testifying against others, though they were eventually acquitted of bribery. He maintains good relations with the international Olympic officials.

3. Which Olympic officials will show up in London?

Again, the government and Coe’s office refuse to say. It remains unclear, for example, whether General Mowaffak Joumaa, president of the Syrian Olympic Committee and close aid to Bashar Assad, will come. It is similarly unclear if Gafur Rakhimov, described by the US government as “one of the leaders of Uzbek organised crime with a specialty in the organised production of drugs in the countries of Central Asia, will appear in his role as vice-chair of the Uzbek Olympic Committee. We can, however, safely assume that Hosni Mubarak’s brother-in-law General Mounir Sabet, the Egyptian International Olympic Committee member who vanished following the Arab spring won’t arrive in July – though he should be comforted to know that he remains on the list . Ultimate control of who has access to the Games remains in the hands of the IOC and they’re reluctant to cede authority on the matter to the British government.

4. Can Boris Johnson really ban Sepp Blatter from enjoying London’s hospitality during the games?

Boris is probably powerless to stop him. Following Britain’s doomed bid to host the 2018 World Cup, the Mayor’s office withdrew the offer to provide suites at the Dorchester for Fifa officials during the London Games. However, Sepp Blatter is not only president of Fifa but a member of the IOC. As such, he will enjoy all the five-star benefits Britain is legally bound under the terms of the 2005 host city contract to offer members. These include five-star hotel rooms along with chauffeur-driven BMWs that will sweep through London’s roads, closed off to common traffic, on the Olympic lanes.

5. Can I buy access to these Olympic lanes?

Officially no. But, as you might have gathered by now, the official line does not always give the complete picture. The Dispatches programme filmed employees of Jet Set and Thomas Cook claiming to provide access to the private Olympic roads for the right price. When challenged by the London assembly on the programme, Coe said that he had not watched it, that the Jet Set salesperson who offered access no longer worked for the firm while another representative from Thomas Cook – who also offered access – was speaking out of turn. There has been no investigation, though his colleague, Paul Deighton, has admitted that some parts of the Olympic road system might be available to high-paying customers. Clear as mud, in other words. But then, what did you expect for £11bn?

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