WITH Great Britain basking in the golden hue of success in the Velodrome and beyond, you might be forgiven for forgetting that just a few weeks ago the Olympics was mired in serious safety concerns. But we have been able to rest easy, safe in the knowledge that the British armed forces have risen to the challenge.
The contractual collapse of G4S to provide enough personnel to secure the Games created unwelcome doubt that security was not as good as it should be. Politicians were rightly worried that some never-do-wells, hitherto deterred by assurances of tight security (with images of armed police, aircraft carriers, fighter jets and air defence batteries), may have wondered whether there was still an opportunity to make their impact.
So far, however, the only security mishaps of note have been a lost set of keys at Wembley Stadium, and a small demonstration at the sports complex that needed to be diverted. A loose dog nearly ran into the men’s road race peloton, and that’s about it.
This is because the security “lender of last resort”, the Ministry of Defence, was invited to still the troubled waters, and it has done so with speed and proficiency. The extra military people have fitted quickly and seamlessly into a world class, if not world-leading, security regime.
It could be said that the arrival on the scene of a large cohort of military personnel, with instincts finely honed in the villages and townships of Helmand, provides greater reassurance and greater deterrence than a private security contractor.
They have worked in support of civilian-led security before, whether in Northern Ireland, Iraq or Afghanistan. They know their job.
In places like these, the threat to safety comes not from uniformed armies, equipped with missiles and bomber aircraft, but from within the civilian population. What the current day serviceman on patrol is looking for isn’t the glint of sunlight off steel, betraying an approaching enemy tank division, but a wayward glance, a head movement, an averted stare, or any almost invisible clue that something is not quite right.
And with regard to deterrence, how better to show the world that we have these expert people on the ground than by filling empty seats with off-duty soldiers, sailors and airmen.
It is important that some sort of inquiry into G4S’s failings should happen, if only to inform the organisers of the Rio games about potential pitfalls. And from a UK perspective, given the amount of public money involved (alongside the time of our sailors, soldiers and airmen), it might be useful to find out who dropped the ball, and bring the right people to account.
But the security system has coped well with the challenges placed before it. And, for now, with increasing confidence, we can sit back and enjoy the biggest sporting festival on earth.
David Livingstone is managing director of Napier Meridian, a security strategy company, and an associate fellow at Chatham House.