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Wimbledon Security on Guard

By Steven Wine
AP Sports Writer
Sunday, June 22, 1997; 2:55 p.m. EDT

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- Rain made the only sound Sunday on Centre Court at Wimbledon, and hundreds of guards, police and military personnel plan to keep things peaceful amid the cheering to come.

Because of heightened security, Britons long accustomed to the threat of terrorism will face longer lines outside the All England Club when the tournament begins Monday.

For the first time, police will search spectators' cars and bags as they arrive. To create a security buffer, a parking lot across the street from the club will no longer be used.

Wimbledon hasn't been interrupted by a bomb scare since 1994. But an IRA bomb hoax forced the postponement of this year's Grand National steeplechase for two days, and the IRA was blamed for killing two police officers in Northern Ireland last week.

``You respond to the level of the threat, whatever the threat may be,'' All England Club spokesman Johnny Perkins said Sunday. ``I think people would have thought it quite strange if we hadn't done anything.''

A bombing at the Atlanta Olympics last year also contributed to the club's decision to tighten security.

``It brings it into focus more clearly,'' Perkins said.

According to a tournament publication, the security force includes 337 guards and 490 stewards from the Royal Army, Navy, Air Force and London Fire Brigade. An undisclosed number of police will also patrol the grounds.

None, however, is armed -- at least not officially.

``It's not an arms-carrying country,'' Perkins said. New legislation will soon make the possession of handguns illegal in the United Kingdom.

But the possibility of violence remains, and security drills were conducted Sunday at Wimbledon, part of the normal tournament preparation. Stewards and bobbies patrolling the grounds declined to discuss heightened precautions.

``By and large we don't talk about security in detail because obviously then it doesn't become security,'' Perkins said. ``But in this case it means there will be delays getting in, and we've asked people to bear this in mind.''

Copyright 1997 The Associated Press

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