US stars may shun Olympic Village for terror-proof luxury of 'QM2'

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The Independent Online

The US may house some of its star Olympic competitors, including those in the basketball "Dream Team", on board the luxury liner Queen Mary 2 rather than in the Athens Games Village to protect them from possible terrorist attacks. The move follows a series of bomb blasts in the Greek capital last week.

The US may house some of its star Olympic competitors, including those in the basketball "Dream Team", on board the luxury liner Queen Mary 2 rather than in the Athens Games Village to protect them from possible terrorist attacks. The move follows a series of bomb blasts in the Greek capital last week.

The ship, the biggest and most expensive liner in the world, will berth in the port of Piraeus for the duration of the Games and be used as a floating hotel for 3,000 VIPs, including heads of state.

Security around the £550m Cunard-owned liner, which has been chartered with seven others by the Athens organising committee, will be extremely tight, with constant air and sea patrols, including submarines and a round-the-clock cordon of frogmen.

President George Bush andTony and Cherie Blair are reported to be among the guests on board - should they choose to make the trip to Athens. US Olympic chiefs are now considering using some of the allocated VIP places for high-profile superstars.

These include the basketball all-stars Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and Kevin Garnett, although they have yet to confirm that they will be going to Athens. Jim Tooley, director of US Basketball, said: "We are not going to leave any stone unturned in making sure we have done everything possible to protect our athletes." Mr Tooley confirmed that staying on separate sites away from the village, including the QM2, is an option.

The US Olympic committee is believed to have been in touch with the Athens organisers about using the liner. And talks were held in Washington last week with the new Greek Minister for Public Order, George Voulgarakis, and the American National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, on the safety of US athletes.

There is no suggestion yet that top US athletes from other sports, including world-class sprinters Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones, or tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, may also be accommodated on the liner.

There will be no request for British competitors to be housed anywhere other than the Olympic Village. Simon Clegg, chef de mission of the 292-strong Team GB, said last week that there was no question of Britain pulling out of the Games, despite the bombings, believed to be the work of the local extremist group ELA.

"I believe the arrangements that are in place for the security of the British team ... are appropriate and provide a secure environment for our athletes," he said.

Last week, The Independent on Sunday revealed that the Greek authorities plan to assign armed security guards for athletes from "high-risk" nations, including Britain.

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