Murdoch papers set to lose 2012 Olympics deal

LONDON (AP) ? Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers are set to lose exclusive access to British athletes ahead of the 2012 London Olympics after the phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World.

Team 2012, an initiative supporting British Olympians, had signed up News International as its official partner to help raise funds for athletes.

But the British branch of Murdoch’s media empire can no longer meet its Team 2012 contractual obligations after the 168-year-old Sunday tabloid News of the World was closed in an attempt to defuse the uproar over illegal journalism practices.

With Team 2012 looking for new media partnerships, News International’s remaining publications ? The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times ? are unlikely to be able to retain the “Official Newspaper of Team 2012” slogan.

“The Team 2012 joint venture, including Visa as its presenting partner, has had a contract with the News International Group as its official media partner,” Team 2012 said in a statement. “As a result of the closure of News of the World the contract can no longer be fulfilled as originally envisaged … to help drive national support for Team 2012 we are now exploring media partnerships across a range of channels.”

Team 2012 has so far raised almost two thirds of its $40.4 million fundraising target, providing funds for the British Olympic Association and UK Sport to invest.

“(We) are working to make sure that we continue to give the 1,200-plus athletes from Team 2012 Visa the best chance of achieving success by competing for Team GB and Paralympics GB at London 2012,” the Team 2012 statement said.

The phone hacking scandal involved the News of the World intercepting ? and deleting ? the voicemail messages of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old who was kidnapped in 2002 and later found murdered.

The phones of celebrities, royal aides, politicians and top athletes are also alleged to have been hacked by the paper, which sold around 2.6 million copies each week.