With or without Hunt, the Olympics march on
LONDON – With or without him, the London Olympics will go on.
Jeremy Hunt, the top U.K. government official in charge of the Olympics, is immersed in a political scandal on whether he boosted Rupert Murdoch's efforts to take over the broadcaster BSkyB. The allegations emerged this week as part of an inquiry into Britain's scandal-obsessed press.
But no matter how this plays out — whether the resignation of Hunt's advisor on Wednesday is enough or whether the affair will wash the Conservative minister out of a job — observers see little impact on the games itself, now only 93 days away.
"If he goes, there will be as much impact as dropping the sponge in the shower," Ellis Cashmore, a professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University.
That's because despite Hunt's position in the Cabinet, most of the work delivering the games falls to the London organizing committee, run by Sebastian Coe and Paul Deighton. Hunt has also been protected up to now by his gruff, pragmatic Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson, a former military officer who faced the media to explain why taxpayers would have to spend millions of pounds (dollars) more than planned to cover unexpected security costs.
With the venues built, transport hubs bolstered and overall funding allocated, the big task that remains on Britain's agenda is security for the games — and those worries were never Hunt's responsibility anyway.
Hunt runs the Department of Media, Olympics, Culture and Sport — known slyly as the Ministry of Fun. The tall, diplomatic Hunt absorbed the Olympics into his agency, the only logical department where the massive enterprise should fall, particularly to a man of immense ambition. Once the circus leaves town, his department takes on the Olympic legacy, which could be touchy if the July 27-Aug. 12 games exceed their 9.3 billion pound ($15 billion) budget.
But the legacy is improved if the games bring money into Britain. Officials hope to use the Olympics to showcase a country that is a good place to do business, where a level playing field is guaranteed.
The task became even more critical Wednesday as Britain slipped into a double-dip recession, raising the need for and the hopes of an Olympic economic bounce.
The elegant 45-year-old Hunt, who faced Parliament Wednesday with a bright aqua-and-pink Olympic pin on his lapel, seemed the perfect person to offer the charisma needed for the quasi-diplomatic role. He recently traveled to Brazil with Prince Harry for the so-called "Great" campaign to bring more visitors to Britain.
But if it were proven that he had given the Murdoch empire special treatment, or even if the question simmered for too long, his high profile role with the games might prove embarrassing to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Hunt's political aide Adam Smith resigned Wednesday, saying he was responsible for the perception that Murdoch's News Corp. had "too close a relationship" with Hunt's department. Smith said he had acted without Hunt's authorization, although it was not clear how a special adviser could have acted so independently.