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London 2012: A Celebration of Britain's Diversity

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The selection of London as the host city of the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games during the 117th IOC Session in Singapore was a testimony of London's premier position as a world city. No other city has the accolade of having three Olympics so far (London hosted the other two in 1908 and 1948). The successful bid, headed by former Olympic champion Sebastian Coe, tells about modern London as a vibrant, youthful and diverse city. London's victory over its other contenders - Paris, Madrid, New York City and Moscow - was due to the result of three years' hard work by a dedicated bid team supported by millions of people around the UK. The bid highlighted modern London's distinctive diversity, its creativity and the huge ambition of regenerating one of London's most deprived parts in the East End.
On 6 July 2005 the whole country was ecstatic with jubilation, as it was seen as once-in-a-life-time event. This was however shattered by a series of suicide bombings, often referred to as 7/7, the following day. It was a mega test for a mega city. But London pulled itself together and got itself going again with resilience, determination and community spirit. With around one third of Londoners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, we could not afford to be divided by the hateful action of a few people.

The post-7/7 life has been worrying for Londoners for some time and a continuous testing period particularly for the large British Muslim community, as the four bombers were British born youth of Muslim faith. Although a community should not be blamed for the atrocities of a few, in reality this rationale does not always work and the Muslim community was put in the dock by sections of the media. However, the spirit of justice in modern Britain and the positive efforts of London's faith leaders and the Mayor of London'soffice helped put things right again.

As the bid was won for London two bodies emerged. The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) was set up to build the venues and infrastructure in the Olympic Park. The other, the , London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) is responsible for staging the Games. Towards the end of 2005, I was made aware that I would be called in to join the LOCOG board, due to my extensive connections with East London's diverse communities. I had been working with many communities for over two decades in East London as a community activist and a teacher, I felt ecstatic joining the Board, as I saw this as an opportunity to help the massive regeneration of the deprived East End and be part of an historic event that would bring the world to London during the Games. My journey with the LOCOG began in early 2006.

It feels like it happened just yesterday but in the mean time tremendous work has gone on behind the venue construction and preparations by the ODA, in full consultation with LOCOG. I have seen LOCOG grow from its infancy to its near adulthood today. Construction of most of the venues on the Park were finished last year, well on time, and in January the Olympic Park was handed over to LOCOG. With successful test events being carried out for some time now, the real Games are just months away. We are at the doorstep of this world event. In spite of not-so-optimistic economic forecast, Britain is in full Olympic mood now.

More than 300 languages are spoken by the people of London, and the city has at least 50 non-indigenous communities with populations of 10,000 or more. Virtually every race, nation, culture and religion in the world can claim at least a handful of Londoners'. London is a world city. There are 1.4 million disabled people in London, of which about 810,000 are of working age. However, like the Euro-zone and rest of Britain, the economic slowdown is biting Londoners. With high unemployment rates for 18 to 24 year olds across Britain, London's share is affecting some communities more than the others. LOCOG has made sure that Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is a key part of London 2012. It has addressed these key issues in areas of workforce, procurement, and service delivery. LOCOG has also established a Diversity Board, chaired by its CEO, Paul Deighton, to oversee its D&I work and to ensure that the Olympic and Paralympic values of excellence, friendship, respect, courage, inspiration and equality prevail .

In February 2010 Archbishop Desmond Tutu was invited to address LOCOG's staff. He also invited them to sign a leadership pledge so that LOCOG fulfils its obligation of incorporating D&I considerations in every key business decision it makes. The majority of contracts were awarded to Small and Medium Size Businesses, allowing smaller firms to gain a slice of the 2012 pie. Larger firms were also obliged to undertake specific actions that fall within the D&I requirements. The process of creating employment opportunities in LOCOG is now in full swing. At its peak LOCOG will need around 6,00 paid staff, over 100,000 contractors and up to 70,000 volunteers who are being given industry-specific training. LOCOG's target that 15%-20% of itsworkforce come from the six of the Host Boroughs is being met. However, 'London 2012' is not for London only. The venues are spread across the UK - with Football in Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Coventry; Sailing in Weymouth; Mountain-Biking in Essex; Rowing at Eton Dorney; Paralympic Road Cycling at Brands Hatch; and Canoe Slalom in Hertfordshire. The Games belong to the whole country.

There have been some challenges with the ticket sale. LOCOG's plan was to keep tickets affordable to most people and to make sure that the seats do not remain empty as has happened in many previous Games. The 6-week application period given last year to pre-register for tickets was met by a huge demand that massively exceeded supply, especially in some popular events. The demand for the Opening Ceremony (more than 2m requests), Athletics (more than 1m request for Men's 100m final), Track Cycling, Swimming and Artistic Gymnastics was astounding. They were put to ballot. There are still opportunities for buying tickets, when they go back on sale in April.

The challenges of holding a world event in a democratic society should not be under-estimated. London's high traffic congestion can often be difficult; with millions of extra people this can be a nightmare. Given last summer's riots in England and sustained high level of security threat, security is another big issue. The Government, LOCOG and London Mayor's office all being aware of this have taken necessary measures. There has obviously been huge investment in transport and security. It is thus absolutely vital London traffic keeps moving during the events. It is also crucial London and the rest of Britain remain vigilant on the law and order so that Britain and the rest of the world can enjoy this epic event in peace and harmony.

* Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is a community activist, an author and a parenting consultant (www.amanaparenting.com). He is a founding member of The East London Communities Organisation (TELCO), Chairman of the East London Mosque Trust, and former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10).

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.