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London organizers plan shorter events sessions

Dec. 09, 2008, 4:30 p.m. (ET)

LONDON(AP) The organizers of the 2012 London Olympics want to use shorter sessions to allow more fans to see more events.

“In Beijing they had five-hour beach volleyball sessions,” London 2012 organizing committee chief executive Paul Deighton told legislators Tuesday. “It was a great event but we will shorten it so it increases the risk of not having the same person in that seat for the entire session.”

Deighton also said he wants tickets to go to fans instead of groups that may or may not show up for the competition, which is what he said happened in Beijing for the 2008 Games.

“One of the problems that they had in Beijing was that they distributed the tickets very widely maybe for political reasons,” Deighton said. “So if you were in Mongolia and you got a ticket you stuck it on the wall because you had no chance of getting to Beijing - and they wondered why people did not show up.”

Talks are already under way with the International Olympic Committee about reducing the number of tickets for officials and guests “so that we can squeeze more people in” at an affordable level, Deighton said.

“At the opening ceremony the demand is very, very high, so it will give us the opportunity to sell those tickets high and give us the opportunity to sell other tickets at a lower price,” he told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Demand should be high, with more than 78 percent of the British population backing the games, according to a poll released Tuesday by the government. British Market Research Bureau interviewed 2,109 people face-to-face from Sept. 25-Oct. 1.

The parliamentary committee also heard that companies supplying material for the Olympic Park could go under due to the global economic downturn.

The 100-hectare (247-acre) east London site will feature Olympic venues and the athletes' village, with plans already having been scaled back from 4,200 apartments to 3,300 for the 17,000 competitors and coaches due to the fall in the housing market.

“The risk to companies getting into financial difficulty and perhaps going bust is a risk to us,” Olympic Delivery Authority chairman John Armitt said. “Hopefully we can keep a reasonable eye on the state of those suppliers so if somebody is getting into difficulty we can perhaps take mitigating action to reduce the impact of that.”

The ODA is having problems securing private financing from the banks to build the 1 billion pound ($1.5 billion; 1.1 billion) village and then sell it off as apartments after the games.

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell is pessimistic about raising further private money.

“That does not mean that we will give up on the possibility that there is private sector investment from another source beyond government,” she said.

The London Games are set to cost three times the original estimate because of an absence of private finance, and Armitt warned legislators that the contingency given to them by the government to keep the project on track could run out by early 2009.

“So far most of the unexpected events have been the funding of the village and in order to get on the site the government has released 95 million pounds to take us through to spring when hopefully we will get our finance in place,” Armitt said. “If we haven't then we will require further contingency but overall I'm confident we will keep within the budget set.”

In addition to the slowdown in the housing market, planning has also been hampered by the pound's free-fall, which impacts on building materials bought form overseas, Armitt said.

Meanwhile, David Ross, an Olympic adviser to London mayor Boris Johnson, resigned Tuesday after the Carphone Warehouse co-founder revealed he had improperly disclosed his use of shares in the phone retailer to secure personal loans.

Organizers managed some good news Tuesday with the announcement that the removal of pylons carrying electric cables across the Olympic Park site had been completed on time and on budget.

A total of 52 pylons and 130 kilometers (81 miles) of overhead wires had been removed.

The work took 424 days at a cost of 250 million pounds ($370 million; 286 million), with 1,300 tons of steel set to be recycled.

The cables were rerouted through two 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) tunnels beneath the site. The tunnels are so big they account for 85 percent of the tunneling work in the United Kingdom over the past year.

Work has also begun on the Energy Centre, which will contribute to the ODA's 20 percent renewable energy target.

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Stringer reported from London, Harris from Manchester, England.