Courtesy of The Guardian UK
LONDON (AP) - Africa Village was supposed to showcase the Olympic best of an entire continent. But the cultural celebration in London's Kensington Gardens has been forced to shut five days early in an acrimonious dispute over unpaid bills, organizers said Thursday.
The village was one of the biggest social spots created especially for the London games. Its Africa Club offered private parties for Africa's medal-winning athletes, national Olympic committee executives and corporate sponsors. The bigger Africa Land attracted more than 80,000 visitors enticed by free musical performances and regional cuisine.
But the party came crashing down Wednesday amid bickering between Africa Village's predominantly French organizers and local suppliers. Mar-Key, the company that supplied the tents and canopies housing each nation's showcase of food and events, secured a court order blocking access.
"Significant promised funds have not been forthcoming and the company has no option but to use legal force as required," said Mar-Key Chairman David Tabb, who expressed hope that an 11th-hour settlement might permit a weekend reopening. Africa Village was supposed to stay open through the end of the games Sunday.
Pixcom, a French events management company at the other end of the dispute, did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
The surprise closure left groups from several African nations in the lurch and wondering who would pick up the tab for food they had stockpiled and entertainers they'd booked.
Each participating nation had been assigned a particular day when its culture and cuisine would be the focal point. The Moroccans had a VIP party planned for Wednesday; the Ethiopians had flown a dance troupe from Addis Ababa for their day Saturday.
"It's sad. It's very bad news for the African countries who are not showcasing their culture anymore," said Jean Mboglem, manager of the Cameroon section of the village.
She expressed surprise that the London organizing committee or International Olympic Committee had not stepped in with emergency funding.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said he didn't know whose responsibility it was to ensure that suppliers and vendors were paid. It was "really premature for us to say whether we are paying, or who's paying or whether they should pay, or whatever," he said.
Seventeen countries are running their own "hospitality houses" in London to promote their food and drink, and to celebrate athletic triumphs. Brazil, host of the next games in 2016, has taken over much Somerset House, a grand 18th-century complex on the Thames riverside.