Security remains in doubt as Olympic games begin in few hours
London (Jago News) — As tens of thousands of athletes, team officials and visitors gather in London ahead of the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday, security is paramount for the Games organizers and British authorities.
And perhaps the biggest headache of all is the challenge of safeguarding the more than 100 heads of state and foreign dignitaries who will attend the opening ceremony at the Olympic Park — Queen Elizabeth II, first lady Michelle Obama and U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney among them.
But should visitors and competitors be worried?
Security concerns hit the headlines this month when it emerged that private security contractor G4S, which was supposed to have provided 10,400 guards for the Olympics and Paralympics, would not be able to deliver.
As a result, the government is deploying 18,200 troops — many more than planned and almost twice as many as are in Afghanistan — in order to remedy the shortfall. About 1,200 of those were called up just this week after being placed on standby.
Nonetheless, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the minister responsible for the Games, said Tuesday that the government “continues to have every confidence that we will deliver a safe and secure Games.”
The decision to call up the extra troops was down to ministers’ determination to “leave nothing to chance,” as they prepare for the largest peacetime event ever staged in Britain, he said.
“G4S numbers continue to rise significantly and we have every expectation that will continue to be the case,” Hunt added.
With just a day to go before the opening ceremony, G4S said it had around 5,800 security personnel deployed at Olympic venues, with more being trained and accredited “each day.” Last week, it said it hoped to have 7,000 fully accredited by the start of the Games, still thousands fewer than it was contracted to provide.
While the recruitment failure by G4S is highly embarrassing for the company, the Games’ organizers insist that their contingency planning will keep everyone safe.
Security officials in the United States say they are supporting the host nation’s efforts during the Games.
The U.S. intelligence community has set up a 24/7 center to analyze all threat information coming in during the Olympics in London, a senior American counterterrorism official said Wednesday.
People with tickets for Olympic events have been sent e-mails giving details of the security requirements for each venue. These include airport-style limits on the size of bags that can be carried and the quantity of liquids that can be taken in.
One such e-mail reads, “Be prepared for security checks when you arrive: this will be like taking an international flight at an airport. It will be busy and you will have to queue, so get there early.”
The 18,200 British military personnel deployed for the Games are to help out with the security checks and stewarding at venues, as well as specialist tasks such as bomb disposal and sniffer dog searches.
The Royal Navy’s largest ship, the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, is moored in the Thames off Greenwich, where it will be a base for helicopter operations and house troops providing security at the Greenwich Park Olympic venue.