Olympic Games: Australia plot escape route over Athens security fears

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The Independent Online

The Australian Olympic Committee will have two Qantas jets on standby ready to evacuate their athletes from the Athens Games in the event of a terrorist attack.

The Australian Olympic Committee will have two Qantas jets on standby ready to evacuate their athletes from the Athens Games in the event of a terrorist attack.

The AOC general secretary, Bob Elphinston, also said they are considering employing armed guards to protect the team, although he admitted that would need the cooperation of the local authorities. He confirmed there was "no question the Australian team would consider withdrawing" but admitted the AOC were making contingency plans. He said: "It's very early in discussion with regards armed support." But he added: "The two Qantas jets, they are ready and available should the team need to be evacuated earlier than two days after the closing ceremony."

Elphinston's comments came the day after three small bombs were detonated on the outskirts of Athens. But he said he believed the athletes will be well protected.

"We're very confident that the Olympic Village and venues will be very secure. Probably the safest place on earth, the Olympic village," he said.

Australia may also consider sending armed guards with its team. "We have not requested Australian personnel to have arms," John Coates, head of the AOC, said. "I don't rule it out. I will monitor and see if it is going to be permitted for other countries. I really think we should be reliant on Greek authorities [for security]," he said.

The Greek government has said it will not allow foreign armed guards on Greek soil.

Australia has been a vocal supporter of the United States' war on terror and committed some 2,000 military personnel to the invasion of Iraq. The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, said he wanted the Australian team to go to Athens and that all measures would be taken to protect the athletes.

Japanese Olympic officials are compiling an emergency manual to help their athletes in the event of a terrorist attack at the Games. But the Japanese Olympic Committee said yesterday that there were no immediate plans to increase security following Wednesday's bomb blasts.

"We are quite aware of the possibility of terrorist acts during the Olympics," the JOC's public relations manager, Toru Watanabe, said. "Of course we're concerned and it will be important to be prepared. We are putting together a manual to instruct athletes how to act in an emergency."

But Watanabe said the JOC would not be seeking the advice of the Japanese government unless the security situation in Athens deteriorated.

Athletes in Athens may be tested for human growth hormone (HGH) for the first time. Many anti-doping experts believe that HGH is the most widely-used banned substance by athletes because it has been, until now, virtually undetectable. But Professor Peter Sonksen, the British scientist who has led the development of the test, believes the time is now right for the World Anti-Doping Agency to introduce it for Athens.

Sonksen said: "I believe that we are ready to introduce a test for growth hormone now - it is at least as good as the test for [the blood agent]. WADA say they may or may not go ahead with it - they are keeping it close to their chests - but I can see no reason why they shouldn't.

"They want to be sure that it would stand up to a court case and I am sure that it would. It is good enough for clinical practice and a scientific point of view shouldn't be far removed from a legal one."

HGH works in a similar way to anabolic steroids - it can help athletes build muscle mass and recover faster from injuries and exertion.

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