On Friday afternoon, shortly after lunchtime, a few hours after London pubs have opened, I will land at Heathrow to cover my third Olympic Games. From the sounds of the fun and games happening at one of the world’s biggest airports, I may only get out of there just in time to hit the late afternoon happy hour.
The news this weekend that inexperienced border control staff, deployed at the airport to shorten the lengthy queues (some reported a time of three to four hours from disembarking to getting through the passport check), had let terror suspects through, means that the British authorities will tighten up security at the airport. This will possibly mean your “Welcome to London” will be a little more stern-faced, a lot more wary and your visit shortened by a few hours. Possibly.
Perhaps by Friday they will have found a way to make security both secure and fun. Perhaps there will be beer vendors walking up and down the queues dispensing pints to the thirsty, so that by the time you get to passport control you are no longer afraid of the stare of the jobsworth nor their tricky questions: “What is the purpose of your visit to London?”
From experience, “to visit the Queen and frighten a mouse right under her chair”, is not the right answer.
After Heathrow, there will be the security at the Olympic Park to negotiate. The London Games authorities promised not so very long ago that the waits at the venues will be no longer than 20 minutes. I believe them. They’ve brought in the army to beef up security, 3 500 of them because of the failure of G4S, the private security company, to supply enough security guards.
Nick Buckles, the chief executive of G4S, whose company could lose close on R500-million because of his sudden realisation – he found out eight or nine days ago, he told BBC radio – that his company weren’t ready for what is possibly the most-ready Olympics yet. Buckles was asked if all the guards would speak English, which is, after all, the language of London. They invented it. Mostly.
"That is a difficult question to answer. They all have a right to work in the UK and have been vetted to very high standards. I cannot say categorically as I sit here today (that all the guards speak English),’ he said,” reported the Guardian on Saturday.
Ah, so it’ll be just like Beijing, then. And Athens.
When I tweeted that the army would have to be called in for the London Games, my old mate Rory Steyn, the top sports security expert in South Africa, retweeted it and added the word “Expected”. I trust Rory. Nelson Mandela trusted Rory. Hansie Cronjé trusted Rory. Cricket South Africa trust Rory. If you are safe at a sports event, it is possibly because of Rory.
Before the Commonwealth Games in Delhi he sent me updates on the security situation there. A terrorist attack was imminent, reported both the world and Indian media. His advice to me was common sense – be aware. And so I always am.
When I arrived in Delhi, I read that some of the Australian journalists had been sent on “survival” courses in case they were kidnapped. Some of the other hacks had been sent with their own security detail. My bosses sent me off with a pat on the arse and the loving whisper of “make sure you hit deadline or else”.
The South African Olympic team will take security with them to London, as they did to Delhi. It is unsure how many personnel they will take, or who, but at the 100-days-to-go function at Gold Reef City, a colleague pointed out a gentleman sitting alone at a table in the corner. For all the life of me it looked like Adriaan Heyns, the man behind Kamp Staaldraad and who made the Springboks a no-go zone at the 2003 Rugby World Cup. A Sascoc official did not know who he was or how he had got there, which doesn’t say much for their security on the day.
I’ve begun practising for the Olympic Games. Getting through security is all about being prepared. Keep small change and cellphones inside your laptop bag, take laptop out of the bag and do not wear a belt with a buckle. I’ve also perfected my Crucifixion-with-spread-legs position in case they need to wave the magic security wand over me. And smile. Always smile. Never look surly. They have a job to do, you know. Be aware. Be prepared. Smile. Security for dummies.