London A few miles from the worst violence to hit the city in 25 years, beach volleyball players dived headlong in the sand, the most summery of Olympic sports on display less than a year before the London Games.
The matches were played under the shadow of the London Eye big wheel, and not far from Buckingham Palace and No. 10 Downing Street. Yet no historic backdrop could block the images of rioting and looting that have swept the city the past three days and left a mark on British sports.
The soccer game between England and the Netherlands at Wembley was the biggest casualty. And as IOC officials arrived to review progress leading to the 2012 Games, they were greeted by a forbidding landscape a short way from where the Olympics will unfold. Plumes of smoke rose from run-down neighborhoods. Businesses closed early — many of them boarded up — as authorities struggled to contain the country’s worst unrest since race riots set London ablaze in the 1980s.
It was hardly the image Britain hoped to present to the world. This was a time when fans should have been reveling in the expectation of a successful Olympics and the start of English soccer season.
Instead, athletes fielded calls from worried relatives watching TV footage of burning buildings and vehicles. Officials tried to downplay the impact of the violence that began Saturday night in the Tottenham area of north London following the fatal shooting of a local man by police.