By Duncan Mackay


November 9 - Controversial plans to stage the equestrian events in Greenwich Park during the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics have received a boost after the venue was praised by a group of British riders who have visited it for the first time.


The riders, all members of the UK Sport-funded World Class Programme which has identified them as having the talent to represent Britain at an Olympic or Paralympic Games, were given a tour of the Park, whose use as a venue for 2012 has upset many local residents who fear that it will be irreparably damaged by hosting the competitions there.


London 2012 is due to submit a formal planning application for the venue at the end of this month and are actively seeking support from the equestrian community, especially after world champion Zara Phillips earlier this year questioned whether there would be any legacy there afterwards.


Will Connell, the performance director of the British Equestrian Federation (BEF), though has assured organisers that the majority of the riders are behind the plans of London 2012.


He said: "We are lucky to have such a fantastic and iconic venue.


"Greenwich is a historic Park and it is exciting to be so close to the main core venue, the Olympic Park.


"This puts equestrian events right back into the heart of the Games.


"It gives LOCOG the chance to develop new ideas, and combine this with a historic setting.


"LOCOG has no intention of cutting down trees or closing the Park for a year, and I think that local residents should be proud that such an exciting Olympic sport will be on their doorstep in 2012."


Show jumper Tim Stockdale (pictured) is not only looking forward to competing against the backdrop that includes the National Maritime Museum but also being able to stay with competitors from other sports.


At last year's Olympics, where he finished 16th, the equestrian events took place in Hong Kong, which is 1,225 miles from Beijing, where most of the events were held.


Stockdale said:  "I am very impressed, I was not aware of the Park’s sheer magnificence, tradition and heritage.


"It has fabulous buildings, and I believe will have a lot of soul.


"It is more than suitable, it is fantastic.


"It will be great to be able to stay in the Olympic Village as well so that the riders can be part of the action."


A report compiled by NOGOE (No to Greenwich Olympic Equestrian Events) and released in March raised legal and environmental issues about holding the eventing, show jumping and dressage events in Greenwich Park.
They claim that the 183-acre Park, which is part of a World Heritage Site, will be damaged if it used during the Olympics.


But the riders all seem seduced by the potential of hosting equestrian events there in 2012. 


Lucy Wiegersma, a team-mate of Phillips on the eventing team, said: “Greenwich Park is a truly stunning setting with the Observatory, the National Maritime Museum and all its natural features.


"I am surprised it has not been considered before for a cross country event."


Sophie Christiansen, Para-Equestrian Dressage rider and two-time Paralympic gold medallist in Hong Kong last year, said: "It is an amazing venue, so beautiful and in the centre of London.


"It highlights what Great Britain can do in terms of innovation.


"I can’t wait to compete here and I hope to win three gold medals this time around."


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October 2009: Anti-Greenwich Park group to hold protest over London 2012

September 2009: London to cut time that Greenwich Park closed for equestrian in 2012
June 2009: London 2012 insist they do care about residents concerns over Greenwich Park
June 2009: Greenwich 2012 opponents to hold meeting
August 2009: Modern Pentathlon chief gives backing to Greenwich Park