Page last updated at 12:37 GMT, Saturday, 23 August 2008 13:37 UK

Shaun Ley's week

By Shaun Ley
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One

London Mayor Boris Johnson at Beijing
Boris Johnson hinted that some 2012 plans could be scaled back
After the euphoria of events in Beijing this week, you'd be forgiven for thinking that a visit to the planned site of the 2012 Games would act as a bit of corrective.

In fact, my trip to east London for The World This Weekend suggests that what the London Borough of Newham may lack in glamour, it's not short on enthusiasm.

From 21 floors up, on a viewing platform imaginatively created from the asphalt roof of a sheltered housing complex, the Olympic site seems to stretch as far as the City, the wealthy heart of old London.

If my enthusiastic guide was to be believed, the buildings gradually taking shape here will be easily a match for the striking office buildings like The Gherkin which shimmer tantalisingly in the distance.

It is still largely a building site, but you can already make out the new international railway station close to the heart of the Olympic Village and I'm told that passengers flying into City Airport can see the bowl in the earth into which the principal stadium will snuggle.

Pretty positive

The only signs of sporting excellence I found thus far when I came back down to earth, were some young boys kicking a football.

But a wholly unscientific conversation with the locals suggested real enthusiasm for the Games.

Olympic site under construction at Stratford, London
Work continues at the 2012 site

One woman, who's enjoying watching the site grow from the vantage point of her flat, expressed some doubts about 2012 being quite the show China was, but the people I spoke to were pretty positive.

One reason is that they're already seeing some signs of an Olympic bonus.

New buildings are springing up, visitors are starting to come to Stratford in order to gaze at the site, and this they associate with winning the Olympic bid three years ago, even if some of it is actually the result of regeneration projects begun long before London thought it had any realistic chance of hosting the Games.

Still, some signs have emerged this week of the problems which may yet afflict the run-up to 2012.

Interviewed on The World At One before he left for Beijing, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson hinted that some of the grand plans may have to be scaled back.

Already, the International Olympic Committee is considering proposed changes to the aquatic centre, and to the athletes' accommodation. Do those, for example, whose events are held outside London really need to be given a place at Stratford?

The risk, of course, is that for all the talk of legacy, London will start to look like it is penny pinching.

But central government has already made clear there'll be no additional money, leaving Mr Johnson with the unenviable choice of amending the plans or put further costs on council tax payers and London businesses, who already face a special supplement to fund the Olympics.

Squaring the circle

In a way, this is the price London has to pay for the modest level of devolution it received from Labour.

Leading the bidding for important international events was one of the tasks fans of a mayoralty said the Mayor of London could perform.

The last mayor, Ken Livingstone undoubtedly did his bit, but he'd probably admit that what helped London pull it off was the lobbying effort by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, who schmoozed the IOC delegates at the crucial meeting in Singapore three years ago.

I was there and can attest to the advantage London enjoyed, especially after a less than impressive performance from the then French President Jacques Chirac as he attempted to promote Paris, at the time regarded as the favourite.

But the Treasury has left London with quite a circle to square; although the government, too, is now under extra pressure because of the remarkable performance of British athletes this year.

The head of the British Olympic Committee, Lord Moynihan, himself a former sports minister, shrewdly used this week to publicly press Gordon Brown to honour commitments made to fund their training for 2012.

'Legacy' concerns

The problem here is that commercial sponsors aren't exactly rushing forward, as the government had hoped.

As Sir Martin Sorrell told the BBC on Friday, smaller firms are reluctant to commit money because the key sponsors have negotiated such powerful contracts that there are few opportunities for smaller players to promote their brand.

Nor is the current financial situation helping; publicity is often one of the first casualties of a colder economic climate.

The organisers of London 2012 think they have a good answer to any shortfall, at least in terms of the facilities.

They say more important than creating a spectacular sporting show is for this to be the “legacy games”, judged as much by jobs and opportunities created in Newham as by world records broken.

Of course, breaking the cycle of deprivation in one of the country's poorest areas would be a record in itself.

However, as one Olympic trainer tells The World This Weekend on Sunday 24 August, there are real concerns that even the “legacy” might have to be more modest.

Regardless of who has the political power and who holds the purse strings, that really would represent a failure of the Olympic spirit so vividly on display in Stratford.

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