LONDON — Britain will not reduce the London Games to an “austerity Olympics”, but instead try to use the event to kick-start the flagging economy in 2012, the minister responsible said Saturday.
Jeremy Hunt, the Olympics secretary, told The Daily Telegraph newspaper that hosting the Games during the global economic crisis should be seen as “an incredible stroke of luck” that could help keep Britain out of recession.
He said the government would never be forgiven if it did not make the most of staging the event. The Games are costing the taxpayer more than £9 billion.
“You can take two attitudes to the Olympics,” Hunt told the broadsheet.
“You can say: these are times of austerity and therefore we should pare them down as much as possible. Or, you can say: because these are times of austerity we need to do everything we possibly can to harness the opportunity of the Olympics.
“We’re going to be the centre of global attention and it will be the first time that we’ve had a major sporting event that’s watched live by half the world’s population. People would not forgive us if we didn’t make the absolute most of this moment.
“This is going to be an incredible expression of Britain’s culture, Britain’s history and Britain’s creativity. So, we decided that the sensible thing to do is to make sure that we finance it properly.”
Hunt said the Olympics could breathe life into the British economy, saying the impact of the Games would be significant.
Asked if it would be the difference between entering a double-dip recession and not, Hunt said: “I don’t want to overstate that because there are many other factors… but if you are saying, ‘Will the Olympics have a massively positive impact on our economic confidence?’ I think the answer is resoundingly yes.”
The British government last month slashed its growth outlook, blaming the impact of the eurozone debt crisis, while Britain is struggling to recover amid high unemployment and inflation and despite record-low interest rates.
Britain’s economy is set to grow by just 0.7 percent next year, about a quarter of the previous official government forecast of 2.5 percent given in March.
Finance minister George Osborne has insisted, however, that there will be no let-up in the coalition’s plans to axe Britain’s huge deficit and steer clear of the global debt storm.
Hunt also insisted peaceful demonstrators would be tolerated and unlike for the 2008 Beijing Games, they would be treated with “dignity”.
“We are proud to be a democratic country and protest is part of that tradition,” Hunt said.
“We don’t want to see disruption to the Games but we also recognise part of the package of Britain is that we allow protest providing it’s lawful and legitimate.”
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