India could make 2012 base in Essex

THE Indian Olympic team could make its base in Essex in preparation for the 2012 games in London, it has emerged.

Elliot Furniss

THE Indian Olympic team could make its base in Essex in preparation for the 2012 games in London, it has emerged.

Representatives from Essex County Council have just returned from a trade mission to Delhi where they were involved in discussions with senior members of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).

Council leader Lord Hanningfield and cabinet member Stephen Castle, head of economic development, regeneration and the Olympic Games, were on the trip and Mr Castle said he was optimistic an agreement could be reached.

India sent 56 athletes and a support team of more than 40 officials to the 2008 games in Beijing and the link-up could provide Essex with a real boost in the build up to the 2012 games.

Mr Castle said the IOA had yet to decide whether its athletes would travel as one group to the UK to prepare for the games or if those involved in specific sports would be based in separate locations, as in previous Olympic years.

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Around 24 sites in Essex have met the standard of the London 2012 Organising Committee's list of facilities available for use in preparation for the games, including centres in Colchester, Braintree and Chelmsford.

Mr Castle said: “Lots of communities around the country are trying to sell themselves and these communities that can attract the big teams will bring big money and lots of top athletes.

“While I was in Delhi I set up a number of meetings with a number of sports federations and met with the head of the IOA.

“It's early stages yet but very few people have spoken to the Indians. It doesn't happen overnight but they liked the fact that Essex is close to London and we can accommodate all of the sports that the Indians are really successful at.”

Mr Castle said a lot of the other countries set to compete in the games had already selected their training camp locations, including Birmingham, which will host the US athletics team, but India was one of the largest teams yet to decide.

He added: “It was very initial conversations but very, very positively received. For us to get in the door was very good.

“The Indians have yet to decide. They have previously sent sports to train individually but what they're interested in doing is following the successful Team GB model and basing all their athletes in one place.”

Mr Castle said an agreement would only add to the Olympic legacy that the games will leave in Essex, with local coaches being offered the chance to work with the best India has to offer and young athletes an opportunity to train alongside the team.

Among those facilities that could host training sessions are the Essex County Cricket ground in Chelmsford and the Colchester Garrison.

Mr Castle also confirmed that contact had been made with the Chinese Olympic Committee about a possible training camp in the county after the close links forged during the Essex Jiangsu Festival, which will close later this month.