April 15 - London 2012 has set itself the target of completing the Parade of Nations during the Olympics Opening Ceremony on July 27 in only an hour-and-a-half by restricting the number of officials able to take part in the event, it was revealed here today.

The Parade, during which participating athletes march into the stadium, country by country, led by a sign with the name of their country and by their nation's flag.

Led by Greece, as has been the tradition since Antwerp in 1920, more than 200 countries took more than two hours to complete the Parade at Beijing in 2008.

London 2012 hope that by restricting the event to accredited competitors and a limited number of key officials that this time it will be much quicker, which could help encourage some of the top athletes to take part.

London 2012 are also optimistic that the proximity of the Athletes' Village to the Olympic Stadium will also mean as many competitors as possible are able to take part.

"London 2012 is working hard to make the athletes parade as positive an experience for athletes as possible," Debbie Jevans, the London 2012 Director of Sport, told the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) General Assembly.

"Athletes, for example, will be able to walk to the stadium as it is so close to the Olympic Village inside the Park and no buses will be required."

The athletes will be cheered on during the 1500 metres wlak by more than 2,500 schoolchildren who will line the route, Jevans announced.

They will also be able to watch the event on giant screens before they march into the arena.

Britain's athletics and swimming teams have already announced that they will miss the Ceremony because they will be preparing for their events.

But the British Olympic Association (BOA) has now agreed a policy with the other sports so that everyone is given the chance to take part in the event.

As the host nation, Britain will be the last team to march in the Ceremony.

"We would like every athlete to be given the opportunity to take part, except where there are exceptional circumstances, such as when they are competing within 72 hours and would have to consider how it would impact on their preparations," Andy Hunt, Britain's Chef de Mission, told insidethegames here.

"We think there is a reasonable contingent of athletes who want to march because it's an incredible opportunity.

"Let's get back to basics where athletes should be at the centre of the Opening Ceremony.

"I hope that London 2012 will set a new standard."

London 2012 has developed its Opening Ceremony plans in consultation with Frankie Fredericks, the four-time Olympic silver medallist, who is the chairman of the International Olympic Committee's Athletes' Commission.

"London 2012 have put everything in place so that the athletes feel like they are part of the event," he told insidethegames.

"Now it is up to the delegations and athletes to help keep the Ceremony short.

"We need to understand that if it takes three hours to march then athletes are going to get to bed too late."

-Duncay Mackay

Source: www.insidethegames.biz