Behind the scenes at Greenwich Park’s temporary stadium

On Friday, the first occupants will be filling these stables ahead of Monday’s Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational, the test events for next year’s Olympic equestrian contests. Friday will also see the closure of the footways through most of the east side of the park as preparations step up a gear.

I joined a media tour on Wednesday morning to get a look behind the scenes of what’s been going on behind the fences in the park over the past six weeks or so. Here’s some photos – firstly of the stadium. It sits on 2,100 legs – which have also helped to prop up a Tesco store as well as athletics competitions.

The white structure beneath the observatory is where the judges will be based. During our visit, the stadium was being fitted out with the technology needed for the judges, including the scoreboard.

You can see a better view of the legs above. The arena itself is only slightly smaller than the one which will be used next year – the main difference will be in the seating. Just 2,000 people can be accommodated in the current temporary grandstand – there’ll be more than 10 times that next year.

One of the challenges the team will face next week will be in converting the equestrian arena into one suitable for the modern pentathlon event, the UPIM World Cup Final, which will take place on 9/10 July, featuring 36 men and 36 women from 20 countries. The action will be split between Greenwich (riding, running and shooting) and Crystal Palace (fencing and swimming), as the facilities at the Olympic aquatic centre are not yet ready.

As well as the challenge of getting athletes from Crystal Palace to Greenwich on time, organisers have to find 55 horses for the event – unlike equestrian disciplines, pentathletes get a random horse to ride on, and just 15 minutes to get to know their steeds. Also, for the first time in a major event, the pentathlon athletes will be shooting with lasers.

This is where spectators will enter the temporary arena – between the stadium and the Queen’s House. Greenwich Council gave away 1,000 tickets to residents. “We had 12,000 applicants before we stopped counting,” council leader Chris Roberts told reporters.

The grass on the sections which have been closed since mid-May looks as good as you’d expect from an area that’s had few visitors and huge amounts of rain. But the course itself – which is being looked after by the Sports Turf Research Institute – is especially soft and bouncy.

The boating pond has become a water jump, and has gained a fish and a turtle. Organisers hope to get this back in public use within days. There’s no word on whether the fish stays for 2012.

The bedding’s already waiting for the horses, and when the bins are full, they will be taken away and composted off-site. For the equestrian events, all athletes will bring their own feed for the horses, who will be younger animals than the ones expected to be the stars next year. Jeremy Edwards, the venue general manager for Greenwich Park, explained that the stables on an easy-to-drain deck to prevent the soil from being polluted. He said organisers would be learning how best to keep the horses cool.

“In the 2008 Olympics I worked for the Hong Kong Jockey Club and we built a a magnificent set of stables, but unfortunately they were built by racehorse people and not equestrian people – and we had multiple countries in the barns. So one of the problems we had there – and it’s not widely spoken about much – is that different countries had different ideas of what temperature they wanted it to be set at. Here, what we’re looking at is whether we’ll need some circulation of air – that could simply be some ceiling fans in the roof.”

Behind the stables are vet and anti-doping facilities, where organisers hope to test how long it takes to get samples to labs for testing.

Some 70-80 staff have been employed since 16 May on turning the park into a sporting venue, with construction work only completed on 20 June. A meerkat mascot is looking after one of the hard hats for now…

The first 10 horses arrive on Friday, with the other 30 coming on Saturday, with an inspection planned for 2.45pm on Sunday.

The dressage kicks off on Monday morning, while cross-country will take place on Tuesday. Showjumping will round off the event on Wednesday. Over the next two days, the arena will be converted for the pentathletes, with men competing on Saturday 9 July and women in action the following day.

If you’re lucky enough to get into either test event, you’ll be amazed – and I think, reassured – at what’s been done with the park in such a short space of time. (You also may be in royal company.) But many more will be shut out of the events, and remain shut out of much of the park, and I think LOCOG’s challenge is to show as many people as it can just what’s happening behind the fences to demonstrate that it’s all worth the hassle. Not an easy job around here with an emasculated local media – and the demonstrators will be sure to get some national publicity on a slow Monday morning.

Will next summer be a time of fun, a time to make money renting your home out, or a time of hassle? By next week, many people will get an idea of what it’ll be like for them – if they haven’t made their minds up already.


  1. I take it the event is going to be broadcast, as it must be as much about how it works for telly, as it does for the competition?

  2. “Some 70-80 staff have been employed since 16 May ”

    Most of them French and Australian, according to local sources who have spoken to them.

    “and I think, reassured – at what’s been done with the park”

    Only if you blank out all thought of the 300 plus damaged trees (in a Conservation area where every tree has Protected status, and this would never be allowed anywhere else), the zillions of insects and micro organisms killed by the surfactant to a depth of a metre, the really savage destruction of parts of the rare acid grasslands (now even rarer, thanks to an elite sport enjoyed by wealth people), and the confiscation of a community asset from thousands of people who don’t have t heir own gardens in the height of summer. It remains to be seen how many trees actually die as the result of LOCOG’s failure to protect their roots adequately.

    The whole thing stinks.

  3. Indigo, you’re revealing more of your mindset with each, fresh spasm of annoyance, aren’t you?

    I’m no expert, but I’m led to believe that in both France and Australia, they have the odd green field. I know, from your perspective, them being French and Australian is clearly a problem, but trust me, I reckon they’re nations capable of growing some grass.

    Now, go and put your retrospective legal action against Henry VIII into action, for building over ancient grasslands, and letting deer and horses run all over the delicate fields.

    Oh, and that issue about the gardens in Gloucester Circus, and how they could be opened up to help those “thousands of people who don’t have their own gardens in the height of summer” – any joy yet?

    The thing is, if your arguments keep descending into moans about the nationality of those employed to do the work, historically distorted claims about the nature of the park, disingenuous whines about facilities being denied to the local community and a bit of faux class warrior nonsense about a sport for rich people, we might reach an unfortunate conclusion about what NOGOE is really all about.

    Your claim to be concerned solely in the park? Given NOGOE’s history of concocting spurious arguments about everything from Tudor bricks to arcane legal claims to Circus Field, I’m really sorry, but to coin a phrase, “the while thing stinks”.

  4. Great article Darryl, really interested to get some proper information direct from the horses mouth rather than filtered through the usual prisms.

    From my personal perspective the facilities looked pretty damn impressive and the general disruption seems to have kept within the expected and acceptable limits. Keeping my fingers crossed that things continue in that vein and that the post event state of the park is equally impressive.

  5. Mick Collins – are you from round here?

    “I’m led to believe that in both France and Australia, they have the odd green field. I know, from your perspective, them being French and Australian is clearly a problem, but trust me, I reckon they’re nations capable of growing some grass.”

    The point about French and Australians being employed to put up the arena is that they ARE NOT BRITISH. Ie LOCOG are not giving employment to Brits who need work, you know, to take/keep them off State benefits.

    “arcane legal claims to Circus Field” – hahaha, do you own your house or flat? Can I come round and tell you that your claim to own it, actually possess it, is arcane and I can stable a few animals in it?

  6. Why not use the permanent arenas at Windsor Castle, rather than installing temporary ones at – presumably – huge expense? The whole Greenwich area is going to be a nightmare traffic wise (it’s bad enough trying to get out of the O2 after a concert), whereas Windsor is straight on/off the M4, close to Heathrow and the M25…. it also has beautiful grounds for the cross country. Makes far more sense i think

  7. Every time Blissett posts, I get a clearer idea of who he is. Well-known friend of and “fixer” for the Council.

    “the facilities looked pretty damn impressive”

    That’s a good way of saying incredibly ugly and inappropriate for a World Heritage Site. Imagine the French allowing this sort of thing at Versailles, or the Israelis allowing this at the Temple Mount? No, neither can I.

    “and the general disruption seems to have kept within the expected and acceptable limits.”

    Acceptable to you, maybe. But I am sure that you are not living in a cramped flat with no garden, perhaps with a large staffie or two and three or four screaming children next door. You are not an elderly person who cannot now go safely to the Park because there are no short-cuts any more. You are not one of those caught by the Flower Garden closures. There is at the moment only one Flower Garden gate open.

    Parks are for people, not for wealthy equestrians who have many many other places to perform at the tax-payers’ expense.

  8. @ Mick Collins

    History not your strong point.

    “Now, go and put your retrospective legal action against Henry VIII into action, for building over ancient grasslands, and letting deer and horses run all over the delicate fields.”

    I don’t have a problem with royalty enclosing their own property. Even plebs do that. But Greenwich Park is not the property of LOCOG. It is not the property of the Secretary of Statre.

    And it wasn’t “delicate fields”, it was heathland before King James and King Charles had it “landscaped”, by Le Notre and others. But it is LOCOG that has made the rare residual acid grasslands even rarer and caused the continued existence of the remainder of it to be threatened.

  9. Wow Indigo, you really do have an axe to grind don’t you!

    Thanks for the info Darryl. I’m with Blisset on this. The disruption could well have been worse and despite what Indigo says there are still areas of the park to be enjoyed by young and old alike.

    Indeed, I enjoyed some time up the top watching my son play cricket for The Ash — as his grandad and dad did before him — just yesterday evening.

    The Ash are up there most Thursday evenings. Come, enjoy, and chill out!

  10. It’s sad that people like Indigo go to such ludicrous extremes – making one blown-down corrugated card sound like a major thread to life and limb, and ludicrous exaggerations about how the Buncefield fire could happen here (really!) and equating use of a surfactant with “Bio Terrorism”.

    There is doubtless a need to keep a close eye on the trees, but such hysteria is completely counter-productive. I’ve been keeping a close watch on the park, and so far they seem to be doing a decent job, with far less disruption than many would have predicted, and huge areas still open.

  11. Dear Indigo,

    As I’ve said before, I live locally and have used the park all my life. If people have been flown in from France and Australia, it rather suggests a degree of expert knowledge has been imported specially for the task. Let’s face it, had they been any old locals, saved from the dole by the task of putting down a cross country course, you’d have been crying out in protest at their lack of expertise. You want to complain – desperately.

    Your Circus Field argument was nonsense – you tried to float it to a few journalists, they checked it out, it didn’t stand up. Similarly, the claim that there were Tudor bricks was shown to be nonsense. The ‘expert’ you put forward turned out to be a librarian. You then accused LOCOG of ‘intimidating’ English Heritage, which they were keen to point out was abject nonsense.

    Now you seek to smear those who don’t agree with you, by claiming “ever time Blisset posts I get a clearer idea who he is”. Given that you’re using the name “Indigo” transparency possibly isn’t your strongest point. I use my real name, why don’t you?

    As for my history, that’s not bad. Well, I remember as far back as that promise NOGOE made to a journalist, to consider opening the Gloucester Circus gardens, for the benefit of those “in a cramped flat, with no garden, a staffie and three or four screaming children next door” – could you fit a few more cliches in, do you reckon?

    Now, that promise, to open the gardens and stop you all looking like hypocritical NIMBYs, who patronise people in flats, while claiming to act for them – how’s it coming along? Only, the longer you ignore it, given that it would put you in such a positive light, the less convincing you seem.

  12. Come off it you guys and leave this indigo alone.
    Not sure why you’re winging as it seems that everything is going your way. What more do you want?
    You should be delighted that the heritage site ‘transformation’ is so spectacularly shite. This former green and wonderful ‘open’ space is now on a par with the state of East Greenwich.
    And it’s all being run by some of the most unpleasant, pushy, arrogant ya ya bastards you would ever want to meet. Maybe you’d get on famously well with them.
    Enjoy it lads – it’s your tacky, kitschville moment.

  13. “This former green and wonderful ‘open’ space is now on a par with the state of East Greenwich.”

    I thought NOGOE claimed it represented the people of Greenwich? Or is that just the posh bits?

  14. @Darryl 30 June 2011 8.36pm

    Au contraire, I love the French and everything French. I speak the language, I have studied the literature in the original (not in English translations), I have lived and worked in France and French-speaking Switzerland, I’d commute from France to London in a heartbeat if I had the money.

    Australians are OK.

    But, hey, missed point error. The point is that LOCOG – while boasting of creating x new jobs – didn’t mention that these were being done by non-Brits.

  15. Seen Matthew Beard in the Evening Standard today, chaps? Catch you at St Mary’s Gate on Monday morning. It is an early start – 8.00am – so you might want to treat yourself to a take-away breakfast at one of the hard-pressed local eateries and support Greenwich business. Mmmm, bacon in a croissant, perhaps? Does anyone do those?

  16. Walked the route on Wednesday and got to say that I didn’t notice damage to the trees.

    All in all I was very impressed by all I saw. Many of the people I met spoke the same language as me and even had a similar accent, although I must confess I didn’t check if their subscriptions to ‘the mail’ was up to date.

    I was very happy with what’s happened hopefully many of you will get to see it too.

  17. I might cycle pass and laugh at a bunch of people from west Greenwich who hate anyone who’s not from there.

    BTW, why hasn’t Mick’s perfectly good question about Gloucester Circus not been answered by NOGOE shrills.

  18. @Indigo 1st July 2011 5.29pm

    Australians are ok. Is that it? OK?

    Bloody oath mate, I rate the Aussies and everything downunder, cobber. I speak the lingo, I’ve had a gander at their books (ridgy-didge not the bogan stuff). I’ve had a go in the Outback and the Top End and I’d flammin go ‘OS’ from The Lucky County to London in flash if I had the moolah.

    Pommy bastards are ok.

    Holy dooley Indigo! Don’t be a drongo and a whinger. You sound like you’ve got kangaroos loose in the top paddock, mate. Those Frenchies and diggers are as busy as a cat burying shit so wind your neck in and give it fair go. Its a rip snorter of an event. The park? She’ll be right.

  19. I live locally and went to have a look at everything Thursday. Got stopped taking photos and told to move on when spying through the wire fencing by the stables. Not successful with any ticket applications and I’m an ex-eventer with a sister who completed Badminton 6 years running, so reckon I have a qualified interest in wanting to watch it all. Standing by The Observatory, got asked to complete a questionnaire: Did I like the idea of the Olympics in London: Not really (because of the cost and security issues and what I think will be utter chaos with transport). Did I think Greenwich Park a good site for the equestrian events: Absolutely not. On a scale of 1 – 5 (with 1 low/5 high), what legacy would the equestrian events leave in Greenwich Park: Minus 1000. What legacy? How many knowledgeable equestrian folk live locally, can appreciate what the Test Event and 2012 have to offer AND have managed to obtain tickets? And what annoyed me most about my Thursday visit to Greenwich Park was that on giving “1” as an answer, they were unable to continue with the questionnaire because they were only collecting positive answers. Unbelievable. Sincerely hope all the equestrians complain about the lack of space and total unsuitably of this site. The equestrian competitions should be moved to Windsor, Blenheim, Badminton or Burghley. Another issue I don’t approve of: After the water complex, the course bypasses above the playground and then makes its way up the hill. The roped off course cuts right across a parallel line of young trees. These young trees are commemorative trees, planted by families who have lost loved members of their family. I have a friend who lost their young daughter in a road traffic accident. I know their tree is a source of comfort and place to grieve on their dark days. That tree is now out of bounds. I wonder if any of these trees have a birth date or anniversary next week and I also find it very hard to believe that not one single leaf will be untouched.

  20. I was gutted when I heard that the London equestrian facilities would be temporary. Athens spent EUR100m on building an amazing equestrian centre for their olympics. OK so, Greece isn’t noted for financial responsibility and eventing – and indeed equestrianism – isn’t that popular in Greece, when compared to GB, but hats off to them for having a vision.

    Such a facility in the UK would have been used and the legacy would have been highly significant; equestrianism in Britain could have it’s own “Wembley” or “Twickenham” and we could bid for large international equestrian events across all FEI disciplines (eventing, jumping, dressage, driving trials, reining, endurance, vaulting and others).

    But we have to be pragmatic. Having the event in an urban park without any risk of “white elephant” permanent infrastructure can only improve the image of equestrianism in the Olympics. Secondly, seeing what can be done with temporary structures and other such innovative concepts can be a positive legacy to equestrianism in the UK. I hope this technology can be used to bid for other world-class events in the near future.

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