Inside Story
Will the London Olympics be safe?
We ask if the event's security will be compromised due to a private firm's failure to recruit enough security staff.
Last Modified: 16 Jul 2012 14:02

With just less than two weeks before the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, security issues have overshadowed the preparations for the event, leaving the British government majorly embarrassed.

"The whole contract had been poorly managed from the start by the London Olympic Organising Committee. They estimated originally that they would spend £29m ($45m) on security, that went up in 2010 to £288m ($447m) and then last December it went to £553m ($859m), and the number of guards went from 10,000 to 23,000…and that's where the problem occurred."

- Martin Bentham, home affairs editor of London Evening Standard

G4S, a private security firm, was awarded a $442m contract to provide much of the security for the London Games. 

But despite being the main security contractor for the Games, the company has said that it cannot provide the promised number of security personnel on time, blaming the shortfall on recruitment, processing of applicants and training of staff.

On Wednesday, the British government was forced to put an extra 3,500 military personnel on standby to protect venues during the event.

An estimated total of 23,700 security staff will provide airport-style security checks to screen spectators at the various venues.

The majority of venues have been divided into three zones within Greater London - the Olympic Zone, the River Zone and  the Central Zone with the rest of the venues scattered around Greater London - all of which require tight security. 

Theresa May, the British home secretary, came under further pressure as it emerged that the Home Office had been warned about this issue as early as 10 months ago.

Speaking before the House of Commons, May said: "As the defence secretary and I, along with other ministers, have been constantly monitoring the situation and the security contracts over many months. And in consultation [with G4S] we have now agreed that it would be prudent to deploy additional military support to provide greater reassurance.

"Many of the best [security] trainers refused to work for G4S and their subsidiary companies because they were offering [very] low pay and they didn't appear to know what they were doing."

- Steve Park, a terrorism and security analyst

"I have therefore requested additional MoD (Ministry of Defence) support and the defence secretary has authorised the deployment of a further 3,500 military personnel. I can confirm to the House that there is no specific security threat to the Games and the threat level remains unchanged. And let me reiterate that there is no question of Olympic security being compromised.

"I think what is absolutely essential is that when the government identified that a need was there, we acted to ensure that we covered that requirement so that we can assure that we have the venue security and the general security of the Games that we all want."

Nick Buckles, the head of G4S, has since been summoned to appear in parliament. The firm has a staff of 675,000 in areas of handling cash and guarding ships.

Inside Story asks: Will this compromise the security of one of the biggest sporting events in the world? And what will be the fallout of this recent trend of privatising security?

Joining presenter Ghida Fakhry for the discussion are guests: Steve Park, a terrorism and security analyst at the private firm SemaGurkha Security Limited, and a former Metropolitan police officer; Martin Bentham, the home affairs editor at the London Evening Standard; and Jeremy Corbyn, a Labour party member of parliament for Islington North and a columnist for the Morning Star.

"We seemed to have lost the Olympic spirit…and become a combination of corporate identities and high-level security. This is supposed to be a Games with young people enjoying themselves, taking part in sports and promoting peace and understanding. It doesn't look like it, with a warship on the Thames."

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour MP for Islington North


At a cost of $442m, G4S was contracted to recruit a staff of about 10,400 as part of a total security force of 23,700.

But it was unable to live up to this agreement – forcing the British government to deploy 3,500 extra military personnel to cover the shortfall.

So now the total number of troops on duty for the London Olympics will be 17,000 – about 7,500 more British soldiers than there are currently in Afghanistan.

The blunder is likely to cost G4S nearly $78m as the company will have to reimburse the government for the extra military deployment.


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