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After London riots, some bemoan damage to city's image ahead of 2012 Olympics

Olympians and businessmen express concern that a week of riots have hurt the city's image as a safe, world-class venue for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

By Ian EvansLondon / August 12, 2011

The Olympic Stadium (bottom l.) and the Aquatics Center (bottom r.), two of the venues for the 2012 Summer Olympics, is seen as smoke rises from a Sony Warehouse, which was destroyed by arsonists in Enfield, in north London on Aug. 9.

Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

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London

The timing probably couldn’t have been much worse.

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Almost a year to the day until the 2012 Olympics Games begin in London, the world was treated to images of rioters smashing storefronts and setting buildings ablaze in the capital and beyond.

Footage of looting, arson, and pitched battles with police dressed in riot gear played out on national and international televisions, raising questions about London’s reputation as safe and multicultural and one of the world's premier cities.

While Prime Minister David Cameron and senior ministers concentrated on quelling the last of the unrest in English cities, others such as business people and athletes are assessing the damage to the country’s reputation abroad and the impact on next summer’s Olympics.

'The country at its very worst'

Mr. Cameron, London mayor Boris Johnson, and the head of the Games' organizing committee Sebastian Coe have all been talking up the event and saying the riots will have little impact.

However their claims were undermined by the discovery that one of the rioters was 18-year-old Olympic ambassador Chelsea Ives, who was allegedly caught on camera throwing bricks at a Vodafone shop window at the height of the rioting in Enfield, north London. Her mother turned her into police after seeing footage of the riots, landing Ives in custody on two counts of burglary and throwing masonry at a police car. Her photo has been splashed across the British media.

Among those concerned about the reputation damage is marathon record holder and former Olympic team member Paula Radcliffe, who wrote on Twitter that the riots showed the "the country at its very worst."

In a separate post, she said: “In less than 1 year we welcome the world to London, and right now the world doesn't want to come.”

“A bloody disgrace, a minority of hooligans are sending out bad message for the rest of the country. World eyes 2012!" wrote Dame Kelly Holmes, a double Olympic champion, on Twitter. "Until we get discipline and respect brought back into our society, it won’t change.”

Big business was also indignant. Steve Ridgway, chief executive at Virgin Atlantic told the Financial Times, “It is very important that we do get on top of the situation in this country. … The world needs to realise that London is a great city – not least with the Olympics less than a year away.”

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