LONDON, England ● Tanned and toned Olympic athletes in skimpy outfits will be serving and spiking outside the prime minister’s Downing Street home — but it’s lower-ranked civil servants who will have the best view of beach volleyball at the London Games.
The sedate, staid neighbourhood in the heart of London will be transformed into a slice of California beach during the Summer Olympics, with about 5,000 tons of sand trucked in from a quarry in southern England.
A temporary 15,000-seat arena will rise next month in the Horse Guards Parade, a storied square better known for a lavish annual military ceremony featuring hundreds of troops dressed in scarlet jackets and bearskin hats.
All the bikinis and shorts, the raucous crowds, the pumped-up music and the cheering will provide plenty of distractions for the government workers during the July 27-Aug. 12 games.
The sandy venue is flanked by the usually low-key Scotland Office, next to the home of Prime Minister David Cameron at No. 10 Downing Street, the residence of Treasury chief George Osborne, and Admiralty House, the office of Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Because of the temporary stands, Cameron and his cabinet will struggle to get a glimpse of the sport’s digs, dinks and floaters, and lesser-known workers with desks on the top floors will have the best views. Already, those officials are preparing for a surge of popularity.
Cameron has joked that he’d have to “stand on the roof of No. 10 Downing Street,” to have any chance of seeing the athletes.
“I’ll be at my desk working of course. OK, I might sneak upstairs for the final,” Moore said, jokingly acknowledging his department’s new-found popularity.
Usually neglected civil servants are already preparing for a rush of requests for meetings in their top-floor suites.
“As we approach the Olympics, the Scotland Office staff have never been busier. Desks are being moved, chairs rearranged, and meeting rooms booked out on the second floor of the Horse Guard’s side of the building,” Moore joked.
Beach volleyball became a medal event at the 1996 Atlanta Games, and it has proved to be a favourite at every Olympics since then.
It’s one of the most sought-after tickets for London, with those for medal matches selling for up to 450 pounds ($715) each.
Even former Prime Minister Tony Blair has acknowledged the sport’s popularity, cheekily suggesting organizers got his backing for the Olympic bid by promising to put bikini-clad female athletes outside his office window.
Half a million spectators are expected to pack the arena for about 100 Olympic matches.
While Cameron might struggle to see the action, he won’t be able to miss the players’ shouts and the crowd’s cheers.
During a trial run last summer, Downing Street officials had to ask organizers to turn down their sound system, as blaring music and announcements drowned out the prime minister as he met with the country’s crisis committee on England’s riots.