Olympics organizers insist early woes are minor

London Games officials dismissed concerns Tuesday over a lost

bus driver, a scramble for more security guards and some

rain-soaked venues – embarrassments that had one tabloid newspaper

headline using the Olympic rings to spell out the word


Organizers said some of the complaints were exaggerated and

tried to put the best face on the unfolding security debacle, as

well as other concerns about the games, which start in 10 days.

”Let’s put this in proportion,” London Olympics head Sebastian

Coe told reporters. ”This has not, nor will it, impact on the

safety and security of these games. That, of course, is our No. 1


His efforts were undercut in Parliament, where the chief

executive of the G4S security group, Nick Buckles, acknowledged

that his company’s failure to recruit enough Olympic staff had

embarrassed the entire nation. Some 3,500 British troops –

including some just back from Afghanistan – had to be called in on

short notice to fill the gap. Thousands more military personnel had

already been assigned to the games.

Buckles gave a groveling mea culpa on live TV as he was being

questioned by angry lawmakers.

”It’s a humiliating shambles for the country, isn’t it?” asked

Labour lawmaker David Winnick.

”I cannot disagree with you,” Buckles said.

He was hard-pressed to explain why his company had failed to

tell officials until only two weeks before the start of the games

that its recruitment efforts had failed.

Some U.S. security and law enforcement officials had privately

expressed concerns as early as last year that there might not be

enough personnel for the London Games.

The FBI is sending about two dozen agents to London to work on

Olympic security, according to two U.S. government officials. They

spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to

talk publicly about the plans.

G4S will pay for its mistake, saying it expects to lose between

35 million pounds and 50 million pounds ($54 million to $78

million) on the contract, which is about 12 percent of its annual


Olympics minister Hugh Robertson said the deployment of soldiers

at Olympic Park would give people ”enormous reassurance.”

Robertson, an army veteran, said athletes are ”incredibly

reassured to see the armed forces on the gate.”

About 2,500 of the additional personnel will be housed in East

London at Tobacco Dock, a 19th century tobacco warehouse now used

as an exhibition center, the military said.

Outside Parliament, hundreds of London cabbies ignited new

traffic jams as they protested their exclusion from special Olympic

lanes set up across the city’s roads for buses and cars carrying

athletes and other VIPs.

As the world’s athletes flew into London on Monday – the first

big day of Olympic arrivals – a few buses carrying them from

Heathrow Airport took a wrong turn and got lost.

”OOPS!” headlined The Sun tabloid, using two of the

interlocked Olympic rings in the word.

”First day. First arrivals. It’s going to happen,” said Jayne

Pearce, head of press operations.

Still, the lost buses – one carrying Americans, the other

Australians – touched a nerve. From the very start, London

organizers have feared repeating the transportation woes of the

1996 Atlanta Olympics, where one of the biggest problems was hiring

bus drivers from outside the city who didn’t know their way


Coe urged optimism, despite a Twitter storm that erupted when

U.S. hurdler Kerron Clement took to the social networking site to

express frustration with what he said was a four-hour bus ride from

Heathrow to the athletes village.

Coe said Clement’s bus journey actually took 2 1/2 hours and

most athletes experienced no problems in reaching the village.

”Apart from a misturning and a couple of tweets, we’re in

pretty good shape,” Coe quipped. ”The majority of athletes got in

in good shape and on time. When they were met by our village mayor

and chief executive, they were busily tweeting, saying how much

they were enjoying village life. Ninety-eight percent of these

journeys went without a hitch.”

At Heathrow itself, the airport sailed through its heaviest

passenger day ever with short immigration lines and plenty of help

for Olympic travelers.

Coe also played down complaints about a miles-long traffic jam

caused by the opening of the Olympic lane on the M4 highway from

the airport into the city.

”I understand there was an accident at Reading, which slowed

some stuff down, but the vast majority of people got through and it

seems to be working quite well,” he said.

The Olympic ”Games Lanes” remain a contentious issue. Hundreds

of London cab drivers blockaded the square outside Parliament on

Tuesday, blaring horns and snarling traffic to protest their

exclusion from the lanes. The cabbies claim it will be all but

impossible to ferry passengers around once most of the special

lanes take effect July 25.

Britain’s notorious rainy weather may prove an even more

intractable problem.

Coe said ”we’ve got mops and buckets” to deal with the

incessant rain that has soaked London for most of the summer. There

is waterlogged ground at two key venues – rowing at Eton Dorney

west of London and equestrian at Greenwich Park, south of the

Thames River.

”It is a problem,” Coe said. ”It is causing us extra

challenges now.”

Organizers are resurfacing areas at the two venues, laying down

temporary tracking for vehicles and spectators, and putting up

special tent shelters to keep the workforce dry, he said.

Although forecasters say the weather could clear in time for the

July 27 start of the games, Coe noted that organizers have

contingency plans. Extra competition days were built into the

schedule ”as a last resort” for rowing and equestrian. There is

an alternate course available for sailing events at Weymouth, in

southeast England, and Wimbledon has a retractable roof over Centre

Court for tennis.

Olympic Park, however, still resembles a construction site, with

workers laying cables, installing seats and landscaping grounds


Not to worry, Coe said.

”Our venues will be open on time,” he promised. ”There is

still stuff to be done, but it’s about dressing up. We’ll be


Organizers also said they are reducing capacity at several

stadiums hosting soccer matches after failing to sell all the


More than 1 million soccer tickets had been left unsold

recently, but organizers cut the number by reducing capacity by

500,000 at the various venues, which means they might not open a

section or a top tier of the stadiums.

Organizers said 250,000 soccer tickets are still on sale and

that an additional 200,000 tickets will go on sale soon after being

returned by national Olympic committees. A further 150,000 free

tickets could be released for schoolchildren.

Associated Press writers Rob Harris, Paisley Dodds, Cassandra

Vinograd and Jill Lawless in London, Eileen Sullivan in Washington

and Tom Hays in New York contributed to this report.

Danica Kirka can be reached at


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