Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images
During the past two weeks of Olympic mania, the UK media has been unashamedly blinded by gold.
Even the most cynical of British hacks were more interested in the country’s growing medal tally than the logistical arrangements which had occupied thousands of column inches in the months leading up to the games.
But as the closing ceremony approaches, perhaps it is time to take stock of the UK’s organisational performance – specifically on security. The plans laid by games organisers and the Home Office hit a last-minute setback when it emerged only days before the event that G4S, a private contractor, would not be able to provide the promised 10,400 venue guards and the army would have to step in to cover the shortfall. At the time, the company said that it would only be able to guarantee around 5,000 guards for the start of the games, so what have they actually delivered?
G4S was proudly tweeting earlier this week that 7,500 of its staff were working at games venues and that the additional 3,500 military drafted in to make up the numbers were being withdrawn.
Things have not gone entirely smoothly, however.
David Cameron at the track cycling on day 6 of the Olympic Games ( Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
First it was a quiet retreat, as the booming transport announcements from Boris Johnson advising Londoners not to “get caught out” by the pressure of Olympic traffic were turned off.
Now ministers are in full U-turn mode on warnings of transport overload, with David Cameron entreating visitors to return to the capital amid fears that organisers’ previous scare stories of packed tubes and jammed mainline stations have left theatres, restaurants and shops empty.
Speaking to Sky News last night, the prime minister said he was confident that fears of transport chaos had been “defeated” and that it was time for people to return to the city.
“People said also that London wouldn’t cope, the traffic would grind to a halt, the capital city wouldn’t manage, that hasn’t been the case,” Mr Cameron said. “Clearly there is a challenge now though to say to Londoners, to the British public … London’s working well, it’s open for business, come back into the capital, come and shop, come and eat in London’s restaurants and let’s make sure that all of London’s economy benefits from this.”
Photo via @BTLondonLive on twitter
Even before Boris Johnson got stuck in the middle of a zip wire, suspended high above a crowd of Olympic revellers in East London, it was clear that this was not a stunt that any other politician would have attempted.
Wearing a giant red and blue harness over his suit, a hard hat strapped securely under the chin, and waving a Union Jack in each hand, the London mayor’s aerial progress towards spectators was anything but dignified.
The harebrained scheme had been intended to provide a spectacular mayoral entrance to one of the many “live” Olympic events being held around the UK capital, this one sponsored by BT and held in Victoria Park. However, when Boris came to a halt after gradually losing momentum, he was left prone above the assembled masses, unable to do anything except wave his flags in a lacklustre way and call on onlookers to throw up a rope.
The mayor was helped down around five minutes later when officials arrived with a ladder, and his spokesman waved off the incident in typically light-hearted fashion. “Clearly the judges are likely to mark him down for artistic interpretation”, he quipped, adding that Boris wouldn’t be bagging any gold medals but remained “unbowed” by the experience.
Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Boris Johnson probably put it best when he said this morning that the geiger-counter of Olympo-mania was “creeping towards the red zone”. The UK is abuzz and senior politicians – already relieved that the Olympics are finally distracting from Britain’s economic woes – have entered fully into the manic spirit.
First off, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt provided some unexpected entertainment when he waved a hand bell rather too enthusiastically during the “all the bells” celebration on HMS Belfast to mark the start of the games. The bell flew off its handle, narrowly missing the crowds on deck. “Oh, oh dear! Are you all right? Health and safety!”, Mr Hunt cried, in a very British way. He later recovered enough to laugh off the incident with a humour rare among politicians who have suffered televised mishap. “I was ringing a bell in a very excited way and the bell actually collapsed in my hand and went flying off,” he told the BBC. “It was a clanger, if you’ll forgive the awful pun.”
Following the furore last night over the North Korean football team being mistakenly listed alongside a South Korean flag, reports of a new Olympic diplomatic incident emerged on Thursday.
A middle distance runner, believed to be of African origin, apparently handed himself in to a police station in Leeds yesterday to claim political asylum. While the UK Border Agency is remaining tight-lipped about the affair – and points out that it never comments on individual cases – government officials confirmed that the sportsman had claimed he was being persecuted in his home country.