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UK breaks Olympic record for security measures

Text by Guillaume GUGUEN

Latest update : 2012-07-15

By bringing in thousands of troops and setting up airport-style controls, British authorities have so tightened security ahead of the 2012 Games that reaching the Olympic Park may become an Olympic sport in its own right.

When Bryony Gordon, a journalist from The Telegraph, visited London’s Olympic Park, she wondered whether she had taken “a wrong turn into a military checkpoint in Afghanistan”.

Indeed, the venue, which will host the next Olympic Games from July 27 to August 12, seems to have become the safest place in the world. “Aside perhaps from the presidential bunker or Fort Knox,” she added.

Security has been a critical concern for the Olympics ever since the terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Games. In London, the July 7 bombings of 2005 - in which 52 commuters were killed -  took place within 24 hours of the Games being awarded.

So far, British authorities have been planning for a “severe” threat level and beefed up security to a point that makes one wonder whether the event will still look like Summer Games and not war games.

War zone

On July 12, the British ministry of defence announced that an additional 3,500 troops would need to step in and help guard Olympic venues, bringing the total number of armed forces staff for the games to 17,000, compared with the 9,500 troops Britain has in Afghanistan.

Thousands of troops deployed at Olympic Park
RAF personnel circling in helicopters will be authorised to use lethal weapons in case of a terrorist attack. (Photo credit: AFP)

The security arsenal also includes RAF Typhoon combat jets, surface-to-air missiles on rooftops and an aircraft carrier on the River Thames.

A serious security alert has already hit the Olympic Park, with reports of a terror suspect repeatedly visiting the venue between April and May, in breach of a ban imposed by the Home Secretary, The Telegraph revealed on July 7.

No knives, drugs, bayonets or sharpened combs

With security likened to that of an international airport, spectators have been given a friendly warning to “get there early” and be prepared to queue.

Considering the list of restricted items, visitors better not be hungry or thirsty - no liquids in quantities greater than 100ml, no “excessive amounts of food” – and had better find discreet ways to face inclement skies: no “oversized hats” and no large “golf-style umbrellas”.

While it is hardly surprising to find firearms, knives, drugs or ear-splitting vuvuzelas on the list of prohibited items, it seems the organising committee has let its imagination run wild: no “bayonets”, “sharpened combs” or “modified belt buckles” are allowed.

Trademark irony

Also blacklisted are “objects or clothing bearing political statements or overt commercial identification”.

“Will your Che Guevara t-shirt get you sent home, and if so, for what? For supporting communism? For espousing the 1958 removal of Fulgencio Batista? For championing the right to look like a tool?” mocked Alan White in The Statesman.

Many Londoners wonder if the infrastructure can handle an expected influx of half a million visitors and their tsunami of tweets and messages, with a congested transport system already badly strained, and the risk of another embarrassing breakdown of mobile networks, similar to the one mobile phone provider O2 suffered last Wednesday.

Others worry about a repeat of last summer’s riots. Some facetious minds have even posted photoshopped images of the riots labeling them as sports: javelin (with a rioter throwing a Molotov cocktail), weightlifting (looters carrying boxes) and so on.

Date created : 2012-07-15

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