With Expectations This Low, Olympics Must Succeed


Over the weekend the Times of London demanded it stop raining in the UK. “Let us make our position crystal clear: We are against this weather,” wrote the paper in its Saturday editorial “It must stop raining, and soon.”

A detailed view of the prototype design of the new golden Olympic torch during its unveiling at St Pancras Station on June 8, 2011 in London, England. 8,000 torchbearers will carry the Olympic Flame around the UK during the 70-day relay, which starts at Land's End in Cornwall on May 19, 2012.
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Ever since the Queen’s jubilee earlier this year it has rained day after day in the UK and with just weeks to go before the Olympics there are fears sunny weather will never return to a country not known for its glorious summers.

If the weather was not enough to dampen the spirits ahead of the Olympics then the logistical preparations certainly will. With just days to go until the opening ceremony, security is now the biggest concern after the failure of a private contractor G4S to find enough security guards to staff an event seen as a massive security risk.

G4S CEO Nick Buckles is under significant pressure to resign after forcing the government to call up 3,500 soldiers to ensure against terror attacks. Shares in the company fell 6 percent in opening trade in London on Monday.

"I have got to make sure we deliver this contract. What happens there afterwards is down to others,” said Buckles in an interview with Reuters over the weekend as the politicians began a feeding frenzy to rival that seen over Barclays and the Libor scandal.

Failure to find thousands of critical staff for an event you have known about for years and have been paid huge amounts of money for is clearly unacceptable, but it is hard not to question the UK government’s role. Did no one at the Home Office or Olympics working committee think to check on those 10,400 security staff we asked you to hire?

Whether he can survive a grilling by lawmakers on Tuesday remains to be seen, but when added to reports that inexperienced customs staff at Heathrow airport allowed five passengers through who should have been stopped given they were on the UK Home Office terror watch lists, security is clearly a major concern.

There are also great concerns over travel chaos. A number of key roads including the M4 which links London with Heathrow airport have had lanes closed to anyone other than Olympic staff, competitors and of course, sponsors. Bus drivers are threatening industrial action and every taxi driver I have spoken to over the last six months claims they will be in Spain and not working their way through terrible traffic.

Following on from the Beijing Olympics, which blew away previous events with its fireworks and state planning, it must be said that Britain and its capital have done an amazing job of lowering expectations.

The rest of the world now expects the Olympics to be unsafe, wet and difficult to get to. Surely the UK can now beat these expectations given they are so low.

Let’s tackle the weather first. This will clearly improve following the Mayor of London’s decision to seek divine intervention.

“Maybe it was time to call upon the sun god Ra, or Phoebus Apollo, or Sol Victrix, or whatever name he now goes by, and lift our hands in chanting entreaty. Come on, O thou fiery spirit that animates the world. Come on out from wherever you are hiding,” wrote Boris Johnson in the Telegraph newspaper on Monday.

“Shine the light of your countenance upon us, you miserable blighter. Extend thy beams, so reverend and strong, and dry the water from our upturned cheeks. Flatter the mountain tops with your sovereign eye, vaporize the thunderheads, and give us all a break,” pleaded the mayor.

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If praying does not work then there is always the rather costly method used by the Chinese in Beijing to induce clouds to rain before they reach the Olympic village. It has also rained for so long that the statistical chances of the sun coming out have to be rising by the day.

Security is now a worry given the G4S fiasco but London lives with the threat of a terror attack on daily basis. It is understandable to think an al-Qaeda will target London during the Games but the UK capital, with its huge CCTV network, extra police and soldiers will be as prepared as any city on earth for a possible attack. The G4S fiasco comes early enough to allow an embarrassed government time to get its act together. (We even have a press conference with David Cameron showing they are taking it very seriously)

The travel situation will be bad but probably not as bad as feared. Road closures and possible bus strikes will make life difficult but London is a huge city that millions commute into and around on a daily basis. With many workers taking time off, the extra tourists will probably be offset and able to get around, even if they have to jump on a Barclays-sponsored "Boris bike", bicycles available under a sharing scheme launched by London's mayor Boris Johnson.

You will be able to get a taxi despite the threats of numerous taxi drivers I have spoken to and the Games themselves will be the usual celebration of sporting excellence with the Americans and Chinese battling it out for medal supremacy, everyone trying to keep up with Usain Bolt and the British picking up the odd medal in equestrian events, rowing and bike riding.

There will be problems, but with expectations this low Britain will end up beating them.