LONDON – With less than a week before the start of the Olympics in London, British authorities have been working round the clock to ensure that all security measures are taken to ensure the success of the event.
The British Games secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said last Thursday that 1,200 additional troops were tuned up to help in case of the lack of security employees worsens. Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents in the UK announced a strike that would explode one day before the start of the Olympics.
The bad news came just eight days shy of the beginning of the Olympic celebration and caused problems for a government that would rather concentrate on highlighting their achievements in the days before the games kick off.
By far, the most shameful episode was the inability of the security contractor, G4S PLC, to fulfill its promise to provide 10,400 security guards for the event. The company failed to realize their manpower problems until a few days ago thus forcing the government to deploy 3,500 soldiers in order to compensate for staff shortages.
Last Thursday, Secretary Hunt acknowledged that even that number of troops would be insufficient and told the BBC that the Government was asked to watch the additional 1,200 troops. “To the unlikely situation that the deteriorating performance of G4S in respect of which we observe today” he said.
“We want the public to be safe in any eventuality,” he said to Sky News. “We don’t really expect to use these soldiers, but they will be there just in case.”
Security has been a major concern for the Olympic Games since 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were killed during a terrorist attack in Munich in 1972. The presence of numerous international journalists at the games makes the event a tempting target for terrorist organizations seeking to cause damage in broadcast live events worldwide. The British authorities have considered recent events as a “severe” threat to the games, which means that an attack is “highly probable”.
In this context, the inability of government officials to adequately handle the security staff has become one of the main topics of debate. The situation has been aggravated by labor disputes that threaten to escalate into two strikes during the event.
A demonstration that will involve 400 workers threatens to disrupt rail services in central England between August 6 and 8. This would lead to a serious disadvantage in relation to the Games because the football games in London will be held in different cities of United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, tourists from cities other than London rely on these train routes to reach the capital.
A conflict of potentially more serious proportions involves a strike by border guards at London’s Heathrow Airport on July 26, a day before the start of the Olympics.
Members of the Union of Public and Commercial Services voted to a 24-hour strike last Thursday due to a dispute over wages and dismissals. They warned that union members will take other measures such as labor laws prohibiting overtime from 27 July to 20 August, a period that would be perhaps be the busiest in the history of the London airports.
Even without the strike, it was possible to see long lines at Heathrow in sporadic moments in the recent months compared to the passport control area. The union has attributed the problems to cuts in government spending.
The crowds have eased since last week when thousands of Olympic athletes arrived in London. But the strike threatens to resume at the worst possible time for the international image of Britain.
The interior secretary, Theresa May, carefully considered the Union’s decision to hold a strike on the eve of the games. She said the government will “implement contingency plans to ensure that they can deal with volume of people who will come to the border, in the most expeditious manner.”