May 2 - Christian householders in London are being asked to open their doors for free to the families of Olympic athletes during the 2012 Games under a special programme.

The More than Gold UK campaign is encouraging churchgoers to offer free hospitality in their own homes to the relatives of athletes unable to afford "astronomical" hotel bills during the London Games.

Churches are also being asked to provide volunteers who can serve refreshments to crowds both during the Games and at the Olympic Torch Relay throughout the UK.

The programme also hopes churches will provide sports camps or weekends for children in the run-up to the Games.

The 2012 Games provide a "unique opportunity" for UK churches to tackle an image of being "out of touch and only interested in themselves" and to be seen for what they really are, More than Gold UK said.

The Christian community has provided more than half of all the homes needed to host Olympic and Paralympic athletes' family members in the past, More than Gold UK said, and it wants to do "even better" in 2012.

Peter Meadows, director of communications for More than Gold UK, said 100 churches have signed up to take part before the launch of a national tour by the campaign later this year.

He said: "There is such a huge interest in sport and traditionally this is what the churches have always done, the churches have always said 'here is a major event, we want to be part of it, we want to help make it happen, we want to express our true identity'.

"Too many people think that the churches' identity is only about what goes on at 11am on a Sunday, when the churches provide most of the volunteers throughout society."

More Than Gold UK was launched in 2007 with the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and the then Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

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