Civil servants win VIP view of beach volleyball
LONDON (AP) -- Tanned and toned athletes in eye-popping outfits will compete for Olympic medals outside the British prime minister's famous Downing Street home, but it's government workers, not the U.K. leader, who will get the VIP view.
Who doesn't want to see beach volleyball, which is bringing sand, bikinis and gold medals to the heart of London?
Competitors known for their skimpy shorts and bikinis will battle it out in Horse Guards Parade, a storied square in Britain's capital better known for hosting a lavish annual military parade featuring hundreds of troops in scarlet jackets and bearskin hats.
The parade ground is flanked by the Downing Street residences of both Prime Minister David Cameron and Treasury chief George Osborne, and Admiralty House, the office of Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Yet a temporary arena to seat 15,000 spectators will obscure most views from their departments.
Only the low-key Scotland Office will have a clear view to the action, and the scramble is already on to transform its ordinary top floor offices into hotly coveted courtside seats.
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 on the showpiece courts. Even Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, whose office balcony looks out directly onto the square, will find his view blocked-- unlike a few dozen of his employees.
"The view from the civil servant rooms in the upper floor is expected to be better," said a spokesman for the Scotland Office who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. "Perhaps our ministers will be visiting their civil servants a bit more this summer?"
Beach volleyball became an Olympic medal event at the 1996 Atlanta Games. It has been one of the most sought-after sports at London's Summer Games, with tickets for medal-deciding matches selling for up to 450 pounds ($715).
Even Tony Blair, the former prime minister, has acknowledged the sport's rising popularity, cheekily suggesting that organizers got his backing for their Olympic bid by promising to put bikini-clad sportswomen outside his window.
About 5,000 tons of sand is being transported from a quarry in Surrey, southern England, to transform the site into a slice of Santa Monica, the California beachfront regarded as the sport's home.
"It is definitely has been one of the popular sports, and that's because of where the venue is and because it's something a little bit different," a spokeswoman for the London Organizing Committee said.
Half a million spectators are expected to pack the arena for around 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.