SBD/July 12, 2012/Olympics

LOCOG Officials Seek To Have London Games Occur With No Security Concerns

LOCOG, British government put together a security plan that will cost over $2.5B
LOCOG officials “seem to have almost everything firmly under control” with a little over two weeks before the start of the London Games, but there are “uncomfortable reminders of the challenge posed by the biggest and most important task of them all: ensuring the safety of athletes and fans during an age of international terrorism,” according to a cover story by Traci Watson in a special for USA TODAY. No specific threats to the Games “are known, and none of those arrested” last week on terrorisism charges at a house a mile from Olympic Stadium are “known to have plotted to disrupt the Olympics.” Yet these recent incidents “illustrate the enormity of the task of guarding against terrorists, who surely dream of making a high-profile splash during a Games.” The security campaign is “nearly a decade in the making,” and will be the “largest ever mounted in peacetime, complete with fighter jets, frogmen and surface-to-air missiles mounted on apartment buildings near Olympic Park.” Neither military leaders nor Olympics organizers “care to see a repeat" of the '72 Munich Game or the '96 Atlanta Games. Still, homegrown terrorism “remains a major concern after the so-called 7/7 attack in 2005.” Security officials must also contend “with violent Irish nationalists, who want to gain control of Northern Ireland.” To guard against “the ugly possibilities, officials have put together a plan that will cost more than $2.5 billion -- nearly 50% more than was spent on security in Athens -- and will severely stretch the country's security personnel” (USA TODAY, 7/12). CBS News’ Scott Pelley noted Great Britain “will have more military personnel at the London Games then they have in Afghanistan.” CBS News’ Bob Orr noted U.K. officials are putting up "their biggest peacetime security operation in history” (“Evening News,” CBS, 7/11). YAHOO SPORTS’ Martin Rogers noted “Olympic organizers and the British government have been warned they face a public relations nightmare amid charges that the security measures for the 2012 Games constitute a flagrant disregard of basic civil rights.” Much of the pre-event chatter among Londoners “revolves not around the competitions themselves, but the controversial measures being implemented to safeguard against terrorist activity” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/11).

LAST-MINUTE DECISION: The U.K. government has warned that G4S will “face financial penalties after the military was forced to provide up to 3,500 troops following the private security firm's failure to deliver the promised number of staff for the London Olympic Games,” according to the GUARDIAN’s Hopkins, Gibson & Mulholland. Government officials were “forced into the last-ditch move only a fortnight before the Games are due to begin because they were concerned G4S could not guarantee it would be able to supply the 13,700 guards it was contracted to deliver” (GUARDIAN, 7/12). In London, Rosa Prince notes, “3,500 soldiers have been told to prepare to perform often menial tasks at the Games, including many who have returned only recently from tours of Afghanistan.” U.K. Home Office Minister for Security James Brokenshire said that some of the US$826M contract awarded to G4S “was intended to cover wages for security guards, and as a result, this money would be withheld.” But he did not say "how much would be held back” (London TELEGRAPH, 7/12). Also in London, Booth, Coghlan & Ford note as recently as Monday, U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May “was still defending G4S,” but government officials now have “lost patience with the efforts of the security contractor G4S to recruit and train enough private sector guards.” May’s “change of heart follows a meeting yesterday with representatives of G4S” (LONDON TIMES, 7/12).

TRAFFIC REPORT: The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Alice Speri wrote, “Complaints about transportation are in full swing.” Network Rail, which operates Britain's trains, staged “a pre-Olympic rehearsal of how it plans to alleviate overcrowding at some London stations during the Games.” But while rail officials “pronounced themselves happy with the drill,” in some locations it “caused confusion, frustration and an onslaught of bad reviews on social media.” Reviews have “been mixed on London's recent handling of big events.” Transport officials “acknowledge the challenge ahead but say the city ... is ready to handle the 855,000 to one million daily visitors expected to descend.” Meanwhile, visitors to Heathrow Airport have “recently reported long waits at understaffed passport control desks” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 7/11).

OLYMPIC-GEDDON? The FINANCIAL TIMES’ Odell & Warrell note U.K. government officials on Tuesday “were scrambling to avert concerns that London was heading for ‘Olympic-geddon’ amid growing fears that the capital’s transport infrastructure will buckle under the strain of hosting the games.” Concern that the Home Office “is not doing enough to ease immigration queues at Heathrow was compounded by the continued closure of a motorway artery between the airport and the city and fresh reminders of how the creaking public transport system might struggle to cope with the influx of visitors.” There is “mounting concern in government circles and among games organisers that the queues will harm London’s reputation” (FINANCIAL TIMES, 7/12).
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