Are the London Olympics a mess already?

Are the Olympics a shambles already? Yes. Thanks for reading.

There is a certain satisfaction to be gained looking at the run up to the London games with politicians wringing their hands, newspaper columnists predicting doom, and the army being called in. Just two years ago, the media called the Vancouver Winter Olympics the “worst ever”, before they even started. They even condemned the transport network and level of security, which included a fence around the Olympic flame at the waterfront.

Police personnel walk past the Olympic stadium in London. Reuters

Two years and several billion pounds later, Britain doesn’t have enough security to cover the games, transport has already caused chaos and there are calls for resignations for those responsible.

Nick Buckles Under Pressure (only part of that is his real name), CEO of G4S security, went in front of British MPs on Tuesday to grovel and apologise for messing up a £284 million pound contract to provide security for the Privatised London Olympics.

The firm was contracted to supply around 10,000 members of staff. Daily, just a fraction of the numbers required are showing up for work.

Buckles told the MPs that 7,000 of the 10,000 people would be in place, a number which prompted the government last week to call in the army to make up the difference.

Bet he regrets ever taking on the Olympic contract.

"Clearly we regret signing it [the contract] but now we have got to get on and deliver it," he said. So, yes then.

Buckles said the contract was more about the prestige of working with the Olympics rather than money. But he's still collecting the £57 million fee for managing the contract. Naturally.

It was also announced on Tuesday that, after millions of people missed out in their bids for tickets to Olympic events, suddenly there were still an extra 200,000 available. But, because nobody outside of London believes this is a British games, the football matches in Cardiff and Glasgow are having large sections of seating closed off so the attendance looks less dire.

A half million tickets to Britain's national game are being withdrawn . Only casually did someone suggest on TV, "Oh, couldn't we make this part of the Games' legacy and get young people in?" Um, yes, that would have been the sensible approach since the whole reason for winning the Olympics was this supposed "legacy" for future generations.

Business people, charities and others like to use the buzz-term "manage expectations", i.e. deliver something that's less than what people want.

Anyone who has visited London knows its transport system is busy and can easily collapse due to the smallest and most innocent of causes. Add the Olympics to the mix, even with all the planning in the world, and any city will struggle. Provided emergency services can still get where they're needed, you can assume transport networks will not meet expectations during the Olympics.

Security is a different matter since you're preparing for the unexpected in a post-September-11 world and a Britain that has bombed a few innocent civilians in the past decade. The Labour Party privatised security for the Games, the Tories/LibDems increased the demand, and despite millions of people being unemployed, apparently we can't get enough to be security guards. Huh? You expected this to go smoothly?
As one commentator said on a BBC Newsnight debate on the subject, once Britain starts winning gold medals, the problems with security, transport and empty seats will be forgotten. He's probably right.

As with the 100m dash, there are always false starts. The weather, transport, missing security people and missiles on top of apartment blocks are all potentially false starts to what could be a great Olympics for London. Best to get the problems out of the way now, than after 27 July.

Updated Date: Jul 23, 2012 12:30 PM

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