Fear and loathing in London Town – or not

By Ant Sims 17 July 2012

There is a lot being said about London’s readiness for the Olympics from an operational point of view, but a lot of the reports are being blown out of proportion, ANT SIMS writes from the English capital. 

You’d be forgiven if you thought the London Olympics were the verge of utter disaster and collapse. If you thought reporting prior to the 2010 soccer World Cup in Africa was bad or negative, you’d find the current reports on the Olympics utterly terrifying.

Immigration queues were alleged to be an absolute disaster, with some reports suggesting waiting times could last up to three hours. Yet, upon arrival at Heathrow on Sunday night, this reporter found no queues, and took less than two minutes getting through the passport check. There is a dedicated area for those involved in the Olympics to walk through and pick up their accreditation, and there are plenty of meet-and-greet personnel waiting to usher new arrivals to their destination. 

But London simply cannot seem to catch a break. On Monday, US 400m hurdler Kerron Clement tweeted that his bus had managed to get lost en route to the Olympic village. Another bus of 30 Australian officials and medics also took the scenic route, with their bus driver forgetting the way and apparently not knowing how to use the on-board GPS system. 

“It would have been a great tourist trip, if that was what you were here for,” said Australian official Damian Kelly.

“[The bus driver] admitted this was the first time he had taken the route and [that] no one had taught him how the navigation system works because it operates off GPS.

“One of the doctors on board got it working for him, but then the Olympic Village hadn’t been loaded into the system, and everyone was trying to find the name of the street that the village was in. In the end, another physio got out his iPhone, and gave directions to the bus driver via his phone.”

The fuss around two minor operational errors has caused a flurry of overreaction about London’s readiness for the Games. It might not be an ideal situation, but it’s certainly not as catastrophic as it’s being made out to be. Operational mistakes happen often, yet Schadenfreude seems to get the better of everyone, with onlookers just waiting to bellow: “We told you so.”

London has also had a security fiasco dominating the headlines. Security firm G4S ran out of time to train their newly recruited staff. This has prompted government to bring in an extra 3,500 soldiers to help with cover. Yet it’s not dissimilar to the situation in South Africa when security guards went on strike during the 2010 Soccer World Cup over a wage dispute. Police officers had to be brought in to manage security – something they did with efficiency.

There seems to be a pattern when it comes to big sporting events all over the world.  Question the readiness of the country months before the competition begins, probe and exaggerate every single malfunction a few weeks before the contests, and ruffle feathers when operational efforts hit a snag.

For the most part, though, major competitions seem to go off without a hitch, and London Mayor Boris Johnson believes the city will be ready. 

“When the opening ceremony begins, then a lot of these issues that we are currently discussing will melt away,” Johnson told BBC television.

“There is a bit of ‘pre-curtain up’ jitters and casting around for things to talk about.”

London has just over a week to get all minor issues sorted out before the Games properly kick off next Friday, and from the outside looking in, it will take more than a few operational issues to derail their efforts to host a brilliant Olympics. DM

Photo: Members of the armed forces take a tour of the Olympic Park in Stratford, the location of the London 2012 Olympic Games, in east London July 15, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Winning


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