Pakistan’s hockey teams are heading to Cannock in Staffordshire. The Belarussian judo squad will be using the facilities at Tonbridge school in Kent. And for two weeks next month, the Forum sports complex in Antrim, Northern Ireland, will be the temporary home of the Egyptian athletics delegation.
London has entered the final stage of its preparations for the Olympics, and across Britain, scores of other towns and cities are also getting ready to welcome the world’s greatest athletes this summer. Encouraged by the organizer, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), as part of its commitment to spread the Olympic legacy far beyond the capital, thousands of international competitors will spend the final few weeks before the Games training with their colleagues in pools, gyms and stadiums from Aberdeen to Plymouth, Swansea to Richmond-upon-Thames.
For the athletes, the pre-Games training camps will carve out a valuable space for them to bond with their teammates, perfect last-minute tweaks to their performance and acclimatize to whatever weather the British summer lays on for them.
However, for the communities that will host them, the camps offer an opportunity to participate in the buzz and claim a share in direct and indirect financial benefits totaling many millions of dollars — a prospect that has led to intense competition between councils, universities and sporting facilities across the country.
The need to supply training facilities for Olympic delegations from across the world has resulted in some unlikely cultural pairings. The Antiguan and Barbudan athletics squad, for example, will be based in the Guildford Spectrum in Surrey, while the Gambian delegation will be based at the Huntington athletics stadium at the University of York. And in Wrexham, north Wales, the council’s leisure manager, Ken Danskin, is making preparations to welcome the Olympic team from Lesotho, likely to number, at current estimates, between seven and nine athletes, plus a handful of officials.
Despite the modest size of the Lesotho delegation, Danskin says, the local sporting groups who may be called on to work with the athletes — providing a sparring partner, for instance, for the boxers who are expected to qualify — are “buzzing” at the prospect. Local school and community groups, too, are excited about the visit, meaning that one of the challenges for the council will be protecting the athletes from too many demands on their time.
“It’s not a huge team, so while we’re aware that they are going to have downtime, we have to be mindful of not over-pushing them into doing stuff,” Danskin said.
The competitors are spending only a fortnight at the Queensway sports ground in the middle of a Wrexham housing estate before heading for the Olympic village, but for the council, their presence is the culmination of years of determined lobbying.
In Wrexham’s case, and that of all the Welsh facilities seeking to host athletes, the decision was taken early on to lobby centrally through “a pre-Games training taskforce” set up by the Welsh assembly to attract international delegations to Wales.
A representative flew to Beijing in 2008, says Danskin, “to tout for business the same as most countries did in Europe, talking to national Olympic committees and saying: ‘Have you considered... ?’”