London 2012: ′There is no appetite for risk′ | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 03.07.2012
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London 2012: 'There is no appetite for risk'

Typhoon jets have been exercising over the River Thames. Surface-to-air missiles are being mounted on tower blocks. There seems to be no limits to the efforts taken to ensure that the London Olympics pass off smoothly.

On July 6, 2005, it was announced to the world that the 2012 Olympic Games would be awarded to the city of London. A sense of excitement and eager anticipation was etched on the faces of those who had gathered in Trafalgar Square to await the news.

The following day, the city was transformed into the stuff of nightmares: On the morning of July 7, 2005, four home-grown Islamist terrorists detonated bombs on three London Underground trains, and on a double-decker bus. Fifty-two people were killed in the attacks, and more than 700 others were injured.

If anyone had been at all complacent about the threat of terrorism during the Olympic bidding process, the 7/7 bombings were a clear reminder that London faced, and still faces, a very real danger from terrorist attacks.

The wreckage of a double decker bus in central London in this Thursday, July 7, 2005.

The 2005 bombings shocked London and the world

"An Olympic Games is the perfect target for a terrorist attack," said George Kassimeris, a terrorism expert from the University of Wolverhampton. "And the UK's foreign policy involvement in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq does make the situation a little bit trickier than it was in Athens, Sydney or Beijing."

No expense spared

That's why the organizers of London 2012 have been keen to emphasize that there will be no corners cut when it comes to security.

"We will have contingencies in place for all possible eventualities," said the chairman of the organizing committee, Lord Sebastian Coe. "There is no appetite for risk," he added.

The bill for security at the Olympics is set to top 1.25 billion euros ($1.55 billion) and includes 23,700 military personnel, to be bolstered by an extra 13,500 troops at peak times. That number easily exceeds the number of British soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan.

Olympic Park: Aerial view

Visitors to the Olympic park will have to pass through strict security

The number of police officers (17,000) was to be almost matched by the number of private security guards, provided by the company G4S. But just two weeks before the opening ceremony, the security company said it had not been able to recruit enough staff. The shortfall will have to be met by an extra 3,500 troops who will be drafted in to work at various Olympic venues in London and elsewhere.

David Commins is Director of Operations for Olympic Security at G4S, before the scandal hit.

"Searching and screening obviously plays a big part," he told DW. "But we'll have officers on patrol; we'll have officers looking after the perimeter; we'll have officers deployed in control rooms, managing CCTV cameras."

Show of force

In the run-up to the opening ceremony, the British government staged a week-long military exercise in London, complete with typhoon jets and military helicopters. They announced that surface-to-air missiles would be set up on the top of tower blocks to the east of the capital, overlooking the Olympic park. Snipers have been trained to shoot pilots of low-flying "terrorist planes." For the first time, guards carrying machine guns will be deployed in the underground tube network.

This will amount to Britain's biggest-ever peacetime security operation.

"The UK government is doing everything in its power to cover all possibilities - from the air, from the land, from underground or from sea," said Kassimeris.

Police cordon off Tottenham Court Road in central London

Some roads in central London will be closed off

No 'siege city'

However, the organizers are keen to stress that London will remain a welcoming place for visitors, despite the additional security measures.

"We want to ensure these Games are safe and secure, but at the same time we are not presenting a vision of London that is a city under siege, because that's not what it is," Coe said. "We are inviting people to come to London to celebrate the greatest sporting event this country has ever seen," he added.

His words were echoed by G4S. "We're striving very hard to provide a balance - so that whilst we are providing security, it's seen as welcoming," said David Commins.

Visitors will have to go through airport-style security to access the Olympic venues, and there are strict rules about what they can bring into the stadium.

Londoners have been warned that they could face long delays on tubes and buses. Millions of people who work in the city are likely to be affected by the increased security. Many companies are allowing their employees to work from home for the duration of the Games; others will no doubt escape the capital in search of peace and quiet elsewhere.

"If you are determined to provide security protection to such a phenomenally large degree, you are bound to cause a lot of hassle, a lot of inconvenience, and probably even curb some civil liberties. I'm afraid this comes part and parcel with the job of protecting the Games," said Kassimeris.

Author: Joanna Impey
Editor: Gabriel Borrud