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Securing the Olympic dream

Author : Tim Fryer

18 July 2012

Once more I am indulging in a bit of pre-Olympic hype – I just can’t help myself, but it is my last chance before the Games begin.

In a perfect world I would have been able to bring you hundreds of Olympics–related success stories over the past months. The truth is that the Olympic rules being what they are it has been very difficult for companies involved in the Games to make any mileage out of it. While I appreciate the need for sponsors’ rights to be protected, there are hundreds of high-quality British suppliers who are forbidden to publicise their involvement.

Included in this weeks newsletter is a collection of some of the recent announcements from companies who are able to make a legitimate Olympic connection - although you may notice that the wording is very careful in some cases!

Given the Olympic fever being lit by the torch as it goes round the country (an hour ago, as I write, Kelly Holmes took the torch to Tonbridge Castle, a few hundred yards from the PFM offices) and given that these Olympics are the biggest FM event to hit this country, I do feel slightly disappointed for those companies who have been unable to be given credit for doing a fantastic job. But I do have a hugely optimistic feeling, especially having spoken to so many companies who will be providing catering, hospitality, engineering, cleaning etc etc services, that this will be a truly fantastic event and one that the UK can be proud of.

However, all is obviously not well in terms of the security provision. I recently posted an article, which is also in print, titled ‘Olympics in secure hands’. It was based on an interview I had with Venessa Young who is G4S’ Support Services Director. At the time of the interview it was clearly not a possibility that the recruiting and training programme would come off the rails as it so publicly has done. My initial temptation was to take the article down as G4S’ Olympic adventure unravelled, but then I decided not to as my motivation was probably protecting my own ego as I wrote the piece. And anyway, I reasoned, are the Games suddenly not secure?

The size of the whole security project is a significant step back from the Bejing Olympics where the total security team is estimated to have number 94,000 (about nine times as many competitors). Obviously the dynamics are different. The Games were a showpiece for the success of the Chinese economic model and that is largely what underwrote those Games. China also has an armed military police numbering 660,000, and so were presumably less dependent on the enthusiasm of local students and residents when it came to making up the numbers. The total security spend was estimated at $6.5bn – an astonishing sum that is difficult to equate to a fortnight’s sporting festival.

A better comparison therefore would be the $1.5bn sum spent at Athens – in the post 9/11 era this was eight times great than had been spent at Sydney four years before – but it is a similar figure to the total estimated spend on London’s security operation once all military and police numbers are built in. The G4S contract is for about a quarter of that and was to supply 10,000 staff, as well as involvement in the training of the 3000 ‘Bridge the Gap’ student contingent.

This has clearly been a disaster, both financially and in terms of image for G4S, but the last thing they are going to want to do is for the situation to be allowed to get any worse. As it stands, the numbers of security personnel calculated to prevent ‘worst case scenario’ acts of terrorism was 24,000. We have now have that number only 3500 of then now are military rather than civilian staff, which you would imagine can only add to the quality of the security provision. G4S will do their utmost to ensure that their 7000 strong team performs flawlessly (especially after some are reported to have simply not turned up last weekend). So for all that it we have created ourselves in a typically British problem, I do believe that we have acted to find a good solution to it – in typically British fashion. So despite the typically British moaning about it, I believe that there is no reason to be anything other than optimistic and excited about the weeks ahead. And while G4S will want the these Olympics to go away, if they do so without incident then it is not too late for the company to salvage its reputation.

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