British soldiers swap Afghanistan for Olympic duty
More used to patrolling the battlefields of Afghanistan than
checking Olympic accreditations, smiling British troops fanned out
across London’s Olympic Park on Tuesday to fill the void left by a
private contractor’s failure to provide enough guards.
Unarmed but in combat uniforms, soldiers with suntans acquired
far from cloudy London were getting accustomed to their temporary
theater of action, a former industrial wasteland transformed into
Olympic venues and accommodation.
With ”London 2012” badges starting to join regimental insignia
on uniforms, soldiers swapped machine guns for barcode zappers as
they manned airport-style checkpoints to the park.Several said they
had recently served a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Far from instilling fear into arriving athletes, the army
personnel seemed to provide a comforting presence in a city that
was hit by a wave of deadly suicide bombings the day after being
awarded the Olympics in 2005.
”I think they do give people enormous reassurance that security
is being carried out correctly,” Olympics minister Hugh Robertson
told The Associated Press. ”Talking to athletes, who might have
come here and been a little bit alarmed by this, they are
incredibly reassured to see the armed forces on the gate.
”They know that is the best we’ve got … and enable us to
deliver a safe and secure games.”
Britain’s terrorist threat risk remains at substantial, the
middle point on a five-point scale, meaning an attack is a strong
”There is no intelligence at the moment that suggests the alert
will be raised,” Robertson said.
And, Robertson believes replacing private contractors with
battlefield veterans could mean a safer games when they begin July
”I’ve always felt this,” Robertson said. ”I was always very
keen right from the beginning to have the armed forces up front and
central in any security plans … I’m absolutely confident that
they will play their part alongside our police, alongside private
security guards, alongside volunteers.”
People arriving at the Olympic Park on Tuesday were not alarmed
by troops manning the security checkpoints.
”It’s fine and I don’t feel uncomfortable,” Chinese television
production worker Ziqiang Zhang said. ”They are good, very
professional … but in China they had more (at the Beijing
It’s only in the last two weeks that the government has had to
call in 3,500 extra soldiers and police to fill the gap left by
security firm G4S’s failure to recruit enough staff.
But this is one security shambles inspiring more confidence in
the security operation, with 17,000 troops protecting the Olympics
”We are in a lot better hands with our military looking after
security than the people that were only going to be trained up in a
few months,” five-time Olympic rowing champion Steve Redgrave told
British broadcaster ITV. ”It may seem a big issue but the reality
is our spectators and our athletes are going to be in a much safer
situation than they were before.”
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris