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Athletes, Visitors Flood London's Heathrow Airport

Jul 17, 2012
Originally published on July 17, 2012 12:17 pm



This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Start with a city centuries old, mix in contests that trace their origins back millennia, then add in record numbers of arrivals at London's Heathrow Airport, including athletes who in some cases felt like they'd spent centuries on the bus stuck in traffic on the way into town.

The London Olympics are days away, along with some complications, as NPR's Philip Reeves reports.


PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: After years of preparations, they're flying in at last. Athletes from all over the world are pouring into London and into the worst British summer anyone can remember.

MAYOR BORIS JOHNSON: Good morning everybody. Can you hear me?

REEVES: The rain's not dampening the spirits of London's mayor, Boris Johnson, who welcomed arriving journalists to his soggy city with this advice.

JOHNSON: I do hope that you will fan out around London and you will discover a city that has twice as many bookshops as New York, and about a quarter of the murder rate by the way.

REEVES: Britain has just endured the wettest weeks on record. The forecast for the Games isn't great. Johnson's not worried. He has his own numbers.

JOHNSON: It rains more in Rome than it does in London, and that's the key statistic. It does. Let me tell you, I can give you the official meteorological statistics. It is officially not raining in London 94 percent of the time.

REEVES: A dark cloud of a different kind is hanging over the games thanks to a storm over the security arrangements. The giant security firm G4S has failed to recruit anything like the number of Olympic guards it promised to produce, under a contract worth some $450 million. To plug the gap, the British Ministry of Defence whistled up 3,500 extra troops, some fresh back from Afghanistan.

There was a big outcry when this emerged last week which grew even bigger yesterday when dozens of G4S staff failed to show up for duty at an Olympic team hotel. Police had to replace them. In fact, overall, hundreds of extra police are now being drafted in to help out.

IAN HANSON: It's just an absolute debacle. What we've witnessed here is almost a collapse of the private element of the security of the Olympics.

REEVES: That's Ian Hanson, chair of the Greater Manchester Police Federation, an organization that represents police officers.

HANSON: And we've got to ask, when is this going to end?


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Does my Right Honorable friend not agree with me that one of the things that undermines national security is petty point-scoring and hysterical opposition talking the Games down?


REEVES: The row over G4S erupted in parliament, for the second time in five days. Home Secretary Theresa May is the government minister in charge of Olympics security.


HOME SECRETARY THERESA MAY: Mr. Speaker, G4S have failed to deliver their contractual obligations, but we have the finest military personnel in the world. Troops who are willing, ready and able to step in when their country calls and we can be sure of their professionalism in helping to deliver a secure and safe Olympic Games.

JOHN BERCOW: Yvette Cooper.

REEVES: Yvette Cooper's from the opposition Labor party and holds its home affairs portfolio.


YVETTE COOPER: It is incomprehensible that monitoring was that poor that no one told her until Wednesday. How on Earth could the minister responsible for delivering Olympic security be the only person who didn't know?

REEVES: All the rancor and the rain doesn't seem to be worrying arriving athletes. True, American hurdlist Kerron Clement tweeted unhappily after his bus got lost for four hours on its way to the Olympics Village. And true, there were some jams on London's roads thanks to new traffic lanes specially reserved for the arriving Olympians. But Dean Brenner, from the U.S. Olympic sailing team was upbeat.

DEAN BRENNER: It's great to be in London. You know, obviously we've been working a while for this, and we're looking forward to getting down to Weymouth for a couple more weeks of training and then get going with the Games.

REEVES: The rain doesn't bother Brenner.

BRENNER: The weather here is great. We love the weather here in England.

REEVES: Remember, he's a sailor. Sailors don't mind getting wet. Philip Reeves, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.