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Oh look -- it's an Olympi-shambles

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Robin Lustig | 10:39 UK time, Friday, 13 July 2012

Perhaps you remember -- I'm afraid I don't -- whether four years ago, just before the start of the Beijing Olympics, were the Chinese media full of stories about how the 2008 Games were set to be a total disaster?

Somehow, I doubt it. It doesn't really seem their style, does it?

What about the Greek media in 2004? (I know our media were scathing about Athens preparations, or lack thereof, but the Greeks themselves?)

Or the Australians ahead of the 2000 Games in Sydney? My hunch is -- and I admit I haven't gone back and checked -- that the general tone of their pre-Games media coverage would have been along the lines of: "Fingers crossed, let's hope it's all going to be great."

The British media seem to prefer a different approach. Here the tone is more like: "We always knew it'd be a disaster, and, oh look, it is."

Take this morning's headlines: "Olympic security farce" (Daily Telegraph); ... "Olympic security chaos" (The Times); "Fury after G4S falls short" (Financial Times). You get the general idea.

Is there something in the British character that prefers things to turn out badly? Whenever the sun shines (if it ever does again), do we feel happiest when we mutter darkly: "Yes, but they say it'll rain tomorrow ..."?

Do we somehow feel more comfortable when our sporting heroes fail to win than when they do? Is that why we all went "Aaah!" when Andy Murray sobbed on Centre Court at Wimbledon having lost the men's final to Roger Federer?

(And before you all yell at me, yes, I do know that Bradley Wiggins is doing exceptionally well in the Tour de France.)

But I wonder how we'll react if -- sorry, when -- British Olympic competitors start winning medals. The front pages will, I'm sure, be covered in triumphant pictures of them, proudly draped in the Union flag -- but deep down, will we still warm more readily to the gallant loser than to the fist-pumping winner?

It's long been remarked that the British seem to be far happier with bumbling amateurs than with ruthless professionals. Our national slogan could be those oft-quoted lines: "It's not that you won or lost, but how you played the game."

And now I have to admit something: I always thought those lines came from an English public school motto. But now, after a bit of research, I discover that in fact they come from a poem called "Alumnus Football", written in 1908 by Grantland Rice, who was an American sports writer.

The poem is about an American college footballer called Bill Jones, and it ends with the lines: "Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine, Let every game's end find you still upon the battling line; For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes - not that you won or lost - but how you played the Game."

But back to the London Olympics. Ever since our capital city was awarded the Games in 2005 (was it really seven years ago?), I've been surrounded by fellow-Londoners gaily predicting disaster and mayhem. I long ago formed the distinct impression that many of them would be sorely disappointed if the whole thing turned out to be the most wonderful success.

So where are we now, with just two weeks to go? Well, the company that was meant to be providing much of the security seems to have fallen woefully short.

The M4 motorway, which is the main route into London from Heathrow airport, was shut for five days because of cracks in an elevated section of the highway (it has now reopened -- fingers crossed that they find no more cracks).

Long queues of impatient travellers are reported again at immigration control at Heathrow.

And the London Underground system reportedly creaked under the strain of a test exercise on Monday designed to simulate Olympic conditions.

On the other hand: London hotels are reported to be slashing their prices because they still have plenty of rooms available for the Olympics.

And the Games organisers keep making more tickets available to the general public, apparently because far fewer people than expected have been gobbling them up ahead of time.

So here's my prediction. Only the competitors and their coaches will turn up (all right, a few thousand officials may tag along as well). The hotels will be empty, and the Underground trains will be blissfully free of confused visitors from overseas.

Disappointed sellers of tatty souvenirs will declare the whole thing a disaster. Everyone else will be mightily relieved. British athletes will win a modest but respectable clutch of medals, and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, will declare himself Mayor for Life.

There again, perhaps it'll pour with rain every day, the Underground trains will break down, and the mobile phone and internet networks will collapse.

I wonder which would make you happier.


  • Comment number 1.

    Our elected representatives (with a few honourable exceptions) seem to be partial to free tickets.

    Shouldn't they be for the High Jump?

  • Comment number 2.

    I predict the G4S will say that they were prevented from recruiting guards BECAUSE of the slow way that the Home Office runs the vetting system.

    That is a good explanation as to why Teresa May was so condemnatory yesterday in the Commons - she was set up by the Civil Servants(!) to protect the Home Office!

    This is also why we are seeing so much media work in protecting the UK Border Force (or whatever it is now called). And the Immigration Agency(?)

    It boils down to the poor computer systems in Government and in particular the Home Office and all its agencies. They are simply not fit for purpose. Ordered by Civil Servants who have not done the job, without specifying any pilot or parallel running and they take the notional profit before implantation which actually cripples the new system. This seems to be a very good explanation of the dire volte face over border staff - firing them last year and hiring them this.

    This situation is I suspect not the Civil Servants' fault - they are being pressured into money saving schemes which are already underfunded - so blame HM Treasury.

  • Comment number 3.

    I could not fail to notice how prehistoric the security for the Olympics is. British politicians are clamoring for explanation on why military is being asked to field more troops for Olympic security after a private contractor was paid millions to provide security. The contractor, G4S, had been enlisted to provide the bulk of the 13,200 private security guards across 100 Olympic venues, but said in a statement Wednesday that it may not hit its target because of problems recruiting/training staff. Major embarrassment for London's Olympic Organizing Committee just two weeks ahead of the games!
    Britain has now put an extra military personnel on standby, after contractor said it may not be able to provide enough security guards on time. Apparently, Ministry in charge of crime & security said the troops would be ready to be deployed to cover any shortfall. Home Office: "We have agreed to offer help to G4S by revising the level of military support." Has Home Office received any rebate from G4S?
    In this time of high unemployment, G4S offered the pathetic excuse that it had encountered issues in relation to workforce supply/scheduling over the last couple of weeks.
    Britain has committed 553 million pounds ($857 million) for venue security, covering arenas in London and other locations across Britain, including a southern England sailing center and five soccer stadiums. 7,500 troops are already being deployed & 6,000 are on stand-by. If all military personnel were deployed, the number would dwarf 9,500 troops Britain has in Afghanistan.
    Enjoy the games & be safe out there!

  • Comment number 4.

    But Robert is not US. It is THEM who are panicking. Have you seen Transport for London's posters telling US not to travel lest the roads be blocked with footballs. gone amok. Did you notice MI5 and MI6 warning US of terrorists and worse. Are you in range of the rockets? It is NOT US who are increasing the security cover month by month; NOT US turning the locations into armed camps. It is not US increasing immigration controls at Heathrow. It is not US who are daily increasing the overall spending on the 'festival'.


    The only thing WE have to fear Is THEIR fear

    What are WE to do are we to 'carry on smiling' ruefully though OUR famous 'stiff upper lips' at the doom mongers, complain to MP's Mayors and Lord Coe and Co. and other incompetents, leave for Scotland and Ireland while WE can,(probably too late) or retire to bed until it is all over having filled the freezer with burgers and a certain soft drink.

    What are you really going to do Robert?

    I don't think you will actually be enjoying the games in the circumstances.

    But please do tell us.

  • Comment number 5.

    'I wonder which would make you happier.'

    Odd. It was all-inclusive BBC 'we-speak' until this point, but then for the killer postscript Olympus was ascended to again, so order is restored.

    Uniqueness is also preserved in a BBC piece referring to how 'the media' refers to British institutions it doesn't favour, under a headline complementing BBC Editors' penchants for the attack lines of political parties they do.

    I wonder if this is typical of what those overseas are 'pointed to' by those claiming to speak for the nation, when it seems few in this fair land have been asked, much less been given any choice in the matter.

  • Comment number 6.

    This July, Discovery Channel sheds light on how anticipation for games can be marred by concerns that a major terrorist threat could turn a celebration of human achievement into a human nightmare.
    Learning from past events that were disrupted by terrorism, Sport Under Threat reveals how organizers of sporting events handle the increased risk of terrorist activity, and what security measures are being taken at the 2012 London Games.
    Sport Under Threat premiered this Sunday, July 15 9:00 pm. Encores on Monday, July 16 at 8:00 am & 2:00 pm + Saturday, July 21 at 11:00 am.

  • Comment number 7.

    From the 1972 Munich Games where terrorist group Black September made hostages of members from the Israeli athletic team into bargaining chip for release of Palestinian prisoners, to the Volvo Ocean Race 2011/12 where the race was halted in the middle of the Indian Ocean due to pirate-infested waters, Sport Under Threat draws from an archive of past events that display how more than ever before, sport is no longer unaffected by political, criminal or military issues. Interviews with members of the International Olympic Committee and security officials are also featured, among which includes interviews with chief executive officer of the London organizing committee, Paul Deighton, senior analyst at London’s security specialists Control Risks David Lea, and Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Chris Allison.

  • Comment number 8.


    Yeah, we don't need specialists. Everything is tickety-boo! According to Lord Coe.


  • Comment number 9.

    8. Scotch Git wrote:
    Yeah, we don't need specialists. Everything is tickety-boo! According to Lord Coe.
    Scotch Git - Also read some Security Personnel may not speak English. Now that's seriously tickety-boo!

  • Comment number 10.

    It's all getting a bit embarrassing internationally really. Aljazeera have been writing about the fiasco recently. Today the CNN website has the leading article "Olympics security failure is 'humiliating shambles,' boss concedes".

    A brief digression though...

    The nice thing about the CNN article is you can actually comment underneath it. It's true of most CNN articles. A news website that lets you talk about a news article right under the article. What a wild and outlandish idea. I wont hold my breath for such a feature at the BBC. Its not a question of funds of course, but rather one of will. The BBC has never been keen on having its news articles publicly criticised.

    Over the years more and more BBC News messageboards have vanished. Recently the trend at the BBC has been to close the few remaining forums in favour of Twitter (which is hardly suited to proper discussion) or worse still to Facebook where opinions are tied to peoples real names (which can be dangerous). The use of Facebook in particular excludes a large demographic of BBC readers. The BBC should host and manage its own commenting facilities. Anything else such as Twitter/Facebook or any latest fad should be an optional extra.

  • Comment number 11.

    Somehow, the possibility being invited to a party being protected by missiles --and those possibly being protected by snipers-- and with thousands of troops with little (or no) experience in policing -- and with the host being a friend of -


    -- http://www.londonolympicsmarketing.com/p/official-sponsors.html

    -- makes me wonder if ´sport´ in its present corruptive forms is worth celebrating or protecting.

    -- http://www.londonolympicsmarketing.com/p/london-olympic-act-2006.html

  • Comment number 12.

    10. Steve wrote:
    It's all getting a bit embarrassing internationally really.
    Over the years more and more BBC News messageboards have vanished.

    Indeed. The move from a poorly substantiated 'speaking for the nation' to shamelessly broadcasting at it, suitably filtered via the edit suite.

    Recently the trend at the BBC has been to close the few remaining forums in favour of Twitter

    The Editors, where the great and good of market rate talenthood (no pearls yet from the new DG yet, sadly) being a prime example of still being open... but closing very, very quickly.

    As to social mediocrity, what to say? Check out Newsnight's old blog to see the latest they offer via FaceBook or twitter. Dross.

    I am overseas and the only UK news is BBC World. On Aurora the best they could manage was a clearly out of her depth anchor (she asked a survivor if the experience was horrible before then deciding to ask a trauma victim their views on the BBC's preferred stance on US gun law) who had to fill the 24/7 dead air space they call news in an exchange with the BBC WHYS Editor on 'what twitter is saying'... make that what they BBC likes from what twitter is saying.


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