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31 mars 2007

How "hockey 'n hoops" can save the Dome

Last week, seven years late, I made the 20-minute journey to North Greenwich for my first visit to the ium Dome, or "The O2" as it is now known.

To be honest, back in 2000 I lived even closer to the Dome, sorry, The O2. But there was something about the crushing inevitability of just how awful the Body, Mind and Faith zones would be that outweighed any sense of "something to tell my grandchildren" curiosity.

I had no problem with the building, it certainly beat the gas works it replaced, but it was what was under that “steel and tensioned fabric” roof that worried me.

But not anymore.

Just when most of us were getting used to the idea of the Dome only being an instantly recognisable building to put in Hollywood action films, its owner, , has pulled off something of a coup. They have finally worked out what to put in it – something that proved to be beyond some of this country’s finest minds (anybody remember “timekeepers” Coggs and Sprinx?).

Having rescued that other fading English icon eckham from obscurity, the Los Angeles Galaxy’s owner appears to have done it again with a £600m refit of London’s least loved landmark. Where there was once a short Blackadder film and 160 acrobats dancing to a Peter Gabriel tune (and that was the good stuff), we’re now going to get “world-class” sport, music and exhibitions.

In terms of sport, The O2 already has games and an -season fixture lined up for the autumn. Tennis, boxing, gymnastics and many more will follow soon after - all leading up, of course, to the basketball finals and the gymnastics event at the ympics.

So will it work? Will you go? Or is the Dome doomed forever?

I think it will work just fine and I fully intend to return (but not in my car – parking will set you back £20 a pop for the NBA and NHL games) once the builders have taken their mugs and biscuit tins across the river to the Olympic building site.

These AEG chaps are an impressive bunch. While everybody focussed on that other long-running construction farce in north west London, 1,400 workers have been getting on with the job of converting the Dome into an American-style multi-purpose entertainment complex – the type of venue AEG has been running with some expertise for years, venues like Manchester’s MEN Arena.

As the world’s largest owner of sports franchises and sports events, AEG also has a decent contacts book when it comes to finding acts to put on for London’s delectation. They even appear to have taken the knock-back that was the government’s decision to hand “their” asino licence to Manchester in their stride. Perhaps they hedged their bets with at and amun.

So, for a few months at least, this cynical journalist is going to let bygones be bygones and give the Dome a sporting chance.

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