Fear of anarchist threat grows as countdown to London 2012 begins
With a year to go until the opening ceremony, the risk of disruption is serious – but party-planning has begun
Sunday 24 July 2011
Organisers of next year's Olympics believe there is a greater threat of disruption to the Games from anarchist protesters than Islamist terrorism, The Independent on Sunday has learned.
Boris Johnson and Lord Coe, the chairman of London 2012's organising committee, will mark one year to go to the opening ceremony on Wednesday at an event in Trafalgar Square. But planners are braced for widespread disruption to transport, security and the sporting events themselves by groups such as UK Uncut, which led the student-fees protests last year.
Olympics sources say the Games are a likely target for anarchists because of the heavy corporate sponsorship of the events – firms including Lloyds TSB, Adidas, British Airways, BT, Deloitte and EDF are paying a total of £1.4bn – and insiders fear that specially designated traffic lanes for dignitaries on roads leading into the Olympic Village at Stratford, east London, could be blocked by UK Uncut "flash mobs".
Earlier this month the terror threat to the UK was lowered from "severe" to "substantial". While there remains a "strong possibility" of an attack from militant Islamists, police resources have shifted towards anarchists and anti-government movements after the series of anti-cuts protests on the streets of London, and elsewhere in Britain, over the past 12 months, including the attack on the car carrying the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.
Organisers and police are keen to keep security at a discreet level to create a "party atmosphere" in London for the Games. Building on 2012's "World in One City" slogan, parts of London will be transformed into mini-versions of competing countries. Sixteen nations have so far signed up to high-profile locations, from Marble Arch to Somerset House, to showcase their countries and cultures.
But, while a number of the venues are billed as extended trade missions, some promise to become "party houses" for international celebrations during the Games. The Jamaicans expect up to 50,000 people a day to visit their base at Finsbury Park, the Dutch promise a campsite and a beach in Greenwich, and the Russians are preparing an ice-rink at Marble Arch.
Kunal Dutta and Matt Chorley judge London 2012's performance so far, awarding Gold where things are on track, Silver for promise, and Bronze if they are falling behind:
Authorities have reason to be vigilant. The 7/7 attacks on London occurred less than 24 hours after London won the bid in 2005. The security budget has risen from £600m to £757m. A high-security Northern Retail Lifeline will be carved through the Olympic Park, including a military-style road with an electrified fence, emergency roadblocks and steel barriers. Organisers fear anarchists pose a greater threat than religious extremists. The resignations of the Metropolitan Police chief Sir Paul Stephenson and Assistant Commissioner John Yates will have done little to instil confidence.
London won the bid at the height of the economic boom, but the original estimate for the cost has risen from £2.375bn to £9.3bn. The financial crisis, which wiped millions from the resale value of land and of the Olympic Village as housing, risked creating costly white elephants. Organisers held their nerve, investing in temporary venues and scrapping costlier ones. With 88 per cent of infrastructure complete, the construction bill could come in £850m under budget.
Unlike other Games, so far it's a sell-out. Money was taken from bank statements before people knew which events, if any, they were going to see. Prices ranged from £20.12 to £2,012. Boris Johnson described the process as an "administrative oddity". Premium seats were almost twice the price of comparable seats in Athens in 2004 (£820) or Sydney in 2000 (£990). The International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge denied claims that tickets were being sold purely for the "greedy and rich".
Expect chaos. Stratford's Overground station has been bolstered with new infrastructure, while an extension to the Docklands Light Railway is due to open shortly. But the London Assembly warns that transport conditions for commuters will be "extreme". More than a million Olympics-related journeys are scheduled for the tournament, with 700,000 ticket holders expected to descend on the capital. Londoners will be told to work from home, change their travel routines or organise video-conferences instead of meetings.
The fifth biggest sector of the economy hopes to cash in on a guaranteed feel-good factor, hot on the heels of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. But while sports fans may flock here, fears of over-crowding, over-priced hotels and a seized-up transport network could deter millions more.
A real success story. Five of the park's six sporting venues, as well as the press and broadcasting centres, are complete. On Wednesday the last of the major venues – the £269m aquatics centre – will be handed over. A 15,000-seat beach volleyball arena is planned for Horse Guards Parade. Athens, where several venues remain in a state of interminable disrepair, stands as a warning to organisers.
With legacy and regeneration of east London at the heart of the bid, the Olympics will be subject to rigorous scrutiny in the months after the competition. The Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) plans 8,000 homes to add to the 2,800 flats in the Olympic village. A school for three- to 19-year- olds will open in 2013. Stratford City, a complex of shops, hotels, offices and homes, looms above Stratford station, where Europe's largest urban mall is due to open in September. Connections between central and east London will be permanently improved.
Team GB's unprecedented success in Beijing will intensify pressure, with Britain expected to better its 19 golds on home soil. All eyes will be on cycling, in which Great Britain excelled in Beijing, taking two world records in 24 hours. Diver Tom Daley is a firm favourite. Top swimmers include Rebecca Adlington and Fran Halsall.
Key to London's bid was the environmental credentials, which focused on five themes: climate change, biodiversity, waste, inclusion, and healthy living. Organisers say they are on track to deliver the world's first "truly sustainable" games, and will deliver the largest urban parkland in Europe for more than 150 years.
The rest of the country
Much was promised to "the regions", from contracts for local businesses to training camps for overseas teams. Venues outside London include Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Murrayfield in Edinburgh and sailing in Weymouth. Children promised a major role in the Opening Ceremony have now been told they will only take part in local events. Of the £6.1bn in contracts awarded so far, 70 per cent has gone to firms in London and the South-east.
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