Officials upbeat despite woes

Wednesday, July 18, 2012    

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LONDON - APART from a wrong turn by a bus driver, a snarky tweet by a US athlete, a few waterlogged venues and a lack of security guards, organisers are insisting everything is fine at the London Olympics less than two weeks before its opening ceremony.

Still, they had to scramble yesterday to put the best face on an unfolding security debacle — as well as concerns about everything from transport to the rain — afflicting the games that start July 27.

“Let’s put this in proportion,” games chairman Sebastian Coe told reporters. “This has not, nor will it, impact on the safety and security of these games, that of course is our number one priority.”

Yet his efforts were undercut in Parliament, where the chief executive of the G4S security group acknowledged that his company’s failure to recruit enough Olympic staff had embarrassed the entire nation. Some 3,500 British troops — including some just back from Afghanistan — had to be called in on short notice to fill the gap. Thousands more military personnel had already been assigned to the games.

And outside Parliament, hundreds of London cabbies ignited new traffic jams as they protested their exclusion from special road lanes set up across London for Olympic athletes and VIPs.

Because of the security guards fiasco, G4S says it expects to lose between £35 million to £50 million ($4.8 billion to $6.9 billion) on its Olympic contract, which is equal to about 12 per cent of its annual profit.

G4S chief executive Nick Buckles gave a grovelling mea culpa as he was being quizzed by angry British lawmakers in testimony that was broadcast live on television.

“It’s a humiliating shambles for the country, isn’t it?” asked Labour lawmaker David Winnick.

“I cannot disagree with you,” Buckles said.

Still, Buckles was hard pressed to explain why his company had failed to inform officials until only two weeks before the start of the 2012 Olympic Games that its recruitment efforts had failed.

Some American security and law enforcement officials had privately expressed concerns as early as last year that there might not be enough security personnel for the London games.

“Now, it seems like some of those fears are being realised,” a US law enforcement official said yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

The FBI is sending about two dozen FBI agents to London to work on Olympic security, according to two US government officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly about the plans.

Transport worries sprang up after two buses carrying Olympic teams from Heathrow — one for Americans, another with Australians — took a wrong turn and spent hours Monday trying to reach the athletes’ village.

From the very start, London organisers have feared repeating the transit woes of the 1996 Atlanta Games, where bus drivers brought in from outside the city didn’t know their way around. That allegedly happened Monday in London, even though Heathrow sailed through its heaviest passenger day ever with short immigration lines and plenty of help for Olympic travellers.



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