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The city is still recovering from the riots last year. According to research, one of the reasons for the rioting was the resentment at how much the Olympics was going to cost, at a time when the government was introducing an austerity programme involving cuts to housing benefits and welfare. In an article, Stephen Graham, professor of cities and society at Newcastle University, wrote: ‘It is darkly ironic, indeed, that large swaths of London and the UK are being thrown into ever deeper insecurity while being asked to pay for a massive security operation, of unprecedented scale, largely to protect wealthy and powerful people and corporations.’ Londoners have seen a rise in council tax in order to pay for the Games.
The ‘Olympic divide’ will also be seen on the roads. There will be dedicated lanes for VIPs. They are for the chauffeur-driven BMWs used by Olympic officials, sponsors and politicians. (Ordinary Londoners will have to cope with an increase in traffic.)
In January, Home Secretary Theresa May spoke at the Olympic and Paralympic Security Conference. She said the Government was ‘ready to take on the challenge of delivering a safe and secure Games. We need a security approach that's robust but seamless. Visible but not intrusive, tough but intelligent… and that's what we will deliver.’
However, that security approach comes at a price. The UK spending watchdog says the overall cost of the Games will be at least £11 billion. The estimated cost seven years ago when the Games were won was £2.37bn. One reason for this huge increase is that the cost of security was massively underestimated. Security costs have doubled from £282 million to £553 million. (And this could still be an underestimate. The security budget of the 2004 Athens Olympics was £1 billion.)
It will be the biggest mobilisation of military and security forces in the UK since the Second World War. Some 13,500 troops will be deployed.
And then there is a whole list of other security measures: aircraft carrier on the Thames, unmanned drones above the stadiums, FBI agents, dog teams, scanners, police checkpoints, number-plate recognition cameras, disease tracking systems, biometric ID cards, CCTV systems that can recognise faces...
The measures are of course in place to protect the 17,000 athletes, and hundreds of thousands of spectators. The busiest day of competitions is expected to attract 800,000 visitors.
The biggest threat to the safety of the Olympics are home-grown extremists, so-called ‘lone wolves’ who are unpredictable and act alone, and al-Shabaab in Somalia. According to the Royal United Services Institute, Britons make up about a quarter of its 200 foreign fighters.
As a result, the police are expected to practise zero tolerance policing. More than 500 MI5 officers have been assigned to the Games. New laws, such as the London Olympic Games Act 2006, will be put in place. ‘These legitimise the use of force, potentially by private security companies, to proscribe Occupy-style protests,’ Graham writes.
He believes that the systems are not just for the Games, but a sign of what is to come. ‘Already, the Dorset police are proudly boasting that their new number-plate recognition cameras, built for sailing events, are allowing them to catch criminals more effectively,’ Graham writes. According to Graham, contemporary Olympics are ‘society on steroids. They exaggerate wider trends.’
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