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
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
”It is a problem,” Coe said. ”It is causing us extra
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
Stephen Wilson on Twitter at: