While construction of the Olympic Park has proceeded relatively smoothly in this area called Stratford (not to be confused with Shakespeare’s home town, Stratford-upon-Avon), concerns over security, transportation logistics and cost overruns remain.
With more than 10,000 athletes and 8.8 million ticket holders expected, organizers are wary of appearing paranoid, but security threats have been at the forefront of concerns ever since the International Olympic Committee awarded the bid to London in 2005. The day after the bid was announced, London was attacked by homegrown terrorists who killed 52 people in a string of transit bombings.
London has been accused of woefully underestimating the costs of securing the 34 venues — most of which are within the Olympic Park but which also include iconic landmarks Wimbledon, Lord’s Cricket Ground and the Horse Guards Parade, a regal setting a stone’s throw from the prime minister’s doorstep. The government recently announced that it would nearly double its budget and assign 13,500 troops to help guard venues and assist police — more than the number of British troops currently serving in Afghanistan.
In addition to the troops and Metropolitan Police, 10,000 privately hired guards will be deployed; the Royal Navy’s largest battleship will be moored at Greenwich, where the equestrian events will take place; and bomb-disposal units, helicopters, fighter jets and ground-to-air missiles will be on standby.
While few are balking at the $1.6 billion the government has allocated for security, organizers face an uphill battle in convincing Britons that shelling out billions on a sporting extravaganza is the best use of public funds, especially at a time of financial belt-tightening.
The budget, the bulk of which is underwritten by the state, has ballooned from $3.7 billion to $14.5 billion. And recent announcements — the bill for the Opening Ceremonies choreographed by “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle was recently doubled, for instance — suggests organizers are gobbling up funds. Last month, the government’s spending watchdog warned there was a “real risk” of costs exceeding their budget.
“We have to be very careful to pay attention to value for money in what we are doing,” said Paul Deighton, the chief executive of the London organizing committee, who emphasized that preparations were running smoothly and the $14.5 billion figure likely will be “more than sufficient for what we need.”
Another challenge is lighting the Olympic flame within the locals. In a recent poll, 32 percent of the British public said they were excited for the Games; 54 percent said they were not.