Will it be the most challenging Olympics in living memory – but not for the competitors; rather, for the people ordinarily resident in and around the city hosting the games? London’s staging of the Olympic Games, due to start in one week, certainly seems to be qualifying for that dubious medal.
We wrote last week about some of the problems swirling around the Olympics. You would hope that as we get closer to the opening ceremonies next Friday, matters would start to come together and problems smooth out. Alas, the opposite seems to be the case, and it is hard to know where to start, or when to stop, in an ongoing recital of appalling mismanagement and misplaced priorities.
Security Woes Get Worse
Like, for example, the matter of security – something that sadly now seems to consume more resource than any other aspect of staging the games. Last week we reported on how on Monday the Home Secretary was assuring Parliament that everything was proceeding smoothly, and then suddenly on Tuesday she was disclosing that, to her astonishment, she’d just discovered that the security contractor, G4S, would not be able to fulfill its obligations, and she was having to urgently draft in 3,500 troops to make up the shortfall.
This week we learn, from testimony given by G4S’s CEO to a Parliamentary committee, that in fact the Home Secretary had been advised of problems way more than a week prior to her making it public. While he bravely accepted responsibility, one does struggle to reconcile the Home Secretary’s assurances on Monday with her actions on Tuesay.
Oh yes – and the 3,500 extra troops urgently drafted in to help out? Looks like they might need still more – perhaps another 2,000, or so it now appears this week.
Some of the preliminary events this week have seen only about 10% of the private security contractors appear – 25 instead of 300, 4 instead of 56, and similar types of no-show factors at other events.
There have been calls for the head of G4S to resign (but, strangely, no calls for the Home Secretary to resign). He is currently resisting those calls, but one wonders if it might not be the best possible outcome for him if he were forced to resign. It seems that he would win some £21 million in settlement if he were to leave. Making this disconnect all the more appalling is that the company he heads may lose more than £50 million from its Olympic contract, and its shares have dropped more than £600 million in value. More details, for example, here.
G4S, in case you don’t know of them, is the world’s largest security firm. As well as private security work, they manage prisons and have been mooted to do supplemental policing type work in Britain as well. One has to wonder if this is still a great idea. Details here.
The Opening Ceremony Will/Will Not Be Shortened
This week also saw the disclosure that the opening ceremony may be shortened by 30 minutes (from 3 1/2 hours down to 3 hours) because if it ran the full three hours, public transport would have stopped running and attendees would have no way of getting home. Apparently this was only just now discovered.
Here’s an article about the shortening of the opening ceremony. You really should watch the video of an Olympic committee spokeswoman denying that the opening ceremony was being cut. To paraphrase, ‘Oh no, we’re not cutting the opening ceremony, we’re just making it tighter, and, oh yes, only removing one part of it, but we’re not shortening or cutting it at all’.
Athletes Unhappy Too
As for the athletes themselves, new technology seems likely to make for ‘faster’ swimming pools, so don’t be too overwhelmed if there are some new swimming records. (I’m feeling a bit like Scrooge at Christmastime, but who really cares about these things anyway? How did the Olympics become such a big deal, especially now that technology seems to have overtaken technique?)
But not all athletes are happy about everything. For example, the Japanese womens football team wonders why it is they got to fly to London in Premium Economy class while their male counterparts got to fly in Business class – a discrepancy all the more interesting because the women are strong contenders to win a gold medal, whereas the men are not expected to place anywhere at all.
On the other hand, perhaps they should count their blessings. Apparently most of the other Japanese contestants got to fly regular coach class only.
A similar thing happened with Australian athletes. The men’s basketball ball team were booked in business class, the women’s team in coach class (and were given a courtesy upgrade to Premium Economy by the airline). And, same as the Japanese footballers, the women are gold medal contenders, the men are not expected to place. Details here.
News today reported on how every Olympian is being given 15 condoms as an initial allocation (no-one seems to be asking why it is that Olympic competitors are not thought to be able to make their own personal arrangements for such things, and need to have them handed out upon arrival). However, one wonders who will get to use their allocation and how – it seems that married couples are not allowed to share rooms in the Olympic village, although gay couples may do so. An Olympic spokesman said that married couples are not being discriminated against. Instead, he says, ‘Accommodation and bedding are done in a particular way to ensure all the athletes are accommodated in the village’.
This non-explanation doesn’t explain why married couples can’t sleep together.
Olympic Enforcers Can Enter Buildings Without Warrants, Cite for £20,000 Fines
Meanwhile, the Olympic organizers are displaying a misplaced zeal when it comes to attacking regular British citizens. Near the bottom of this article you’ll see a list of words and phrases that are banned from advertising in Britain during the Olympics – words such as London and summer, for example.
Britain has just recently finished celebrating the Queen’s 60th year on the throne, and the country made a big deal out of making it a national celebration, with block parties across the nation and all sorts of informal events being encouraged to take place. But for the Olympics, you can face a £20,000 fine for even inadvertently trying to share the festive spirit and joy of the Olympics. It is fine that the entire nation should have to pay for the ridiculous cost of the Olympics, but perish the thought that anyone other than the few who can afford to pay up to $3000 and more a ticket should actually get to enjoy a bit of festive celebrating.
This incredibly selfish determination to ensure no-one else can get any pleasure at all out of the Olympics has reached Olympian heights of stupidity. For example, the second part of this article reports how police officers who brought their own lunches from home when on duty at Olympic events were told they had to take any branded items out of the branded packaging and place them in plain unbranded bags. A packet of regular potato chips, for example, had to be emptied out into a plain plastic bag.
Only after being publicly shamed did the people crippled with Olympic sized stupidity relent on that edict.
Plenty More Problems Too
Other parts of the general population are also riled, with cab drivers protesting about not being allowed to share the special VIP Olympic only lanes that have been set up on 30 miles of London’s always crowded streets. Other traffic disruptions are also occurring, including one that encouraged this article’s writer to dredge out the well-work phrase ‘a perfect storm’ (of travel chaos).
And some public service unions have venally calculated that now would be an ideal time to threaten to strike – a time when they have maximum leverage. If their strikes take place, still more chaos will ensue.
But it is an ill wind that blows no good, and it seems the pickpockets will be out in force, enjoying a feast of easy pickings among the attendees. You might wonder how these people get into Britain in the first place, but as this article reports, inexperienced, pressured and rushed staff at Heathrow are letting plenty of known terrorists into the country at present, and as this article reports, a ‘super-computer’ system collapse at MI-5 means that the authorities aren’t even sure, now, who the good guys and bad guys are to start with.
Of course, some of us might think that the real pickpockets are the Olympic officials who foisted the event on London in the first place, and who have the temerity to charge up to $3000 per event ticket (plenty remain unsold if you’d like to buy one, by the way).