- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
- 0 Shares
Less than 24 hours after Brits celebrated news that London had been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games, four bombs exploded in the British capital during Thursday morning's commute. Though there's no indication the two events are related -- the G8 Summit in nearby Scotland is a more likely reason for the attacks -- the timing brings about growing concern about security for the Olympic Games.
After the Athens Games' security budget ballooned from $650 million to $1.5 billion, security for the biennial international athletic competition now rivals the costs to build or amend the facilities in which the Olympics are played.
It is not known how Thursday's attacks will affect the London Games, though it already has caused the cancellation of a celebration by London delegates, who returned from Wednesday's announcement in Singapore with plans to tour the city's Olympic venues by helicopter.
"The security plan is projected to protect the environment in 2012," said David Maples, a former FBI special agent who was involved with planning security for five Olympic Games, from 1984 (Los Angeles) to 1996 (Atlanta). "There's no way of knowing what the world is going to be like in 2012, so even with the attacks on Thursday, their goal is still the same as it was on Wednesday, which is try to cover all the contingencies for the future."
Officials with the London 2012 Organizing Committee budgeted $350 million for security, less than a quarter of what the Greek government spent last year. Officials from the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China have yet to reveal the security budget for the 2008 Games, though it is believed that costs could top what was spent in Athens.
"The amount of money London has allotted for the games might seem small, but the Brits are so much ahead of the curve already as far as security goes," said Julianne Smith, deputy director of the CSIS International Security Program, a U.S-based global security think tank, where she has recently focused on European security and defense. "Because of the threats of the [Irish Republican Army] over the past two decades, London essentially has in place what the force in Athens had to build."
London's bid book submitted to the International Olympic Committee estimated that, by 2012, the British government will have allocated at least $3 billion to strengthen counterterrorism since the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
Security budgets of Olympics past have normally increased, though money spent by organizing committees varies greatly depending on existing infrastructure.
Security at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta cost $150 million, but didn't prevent a bomb from being detonated at the Centennial Olympic Park that killed one woman and injured 111 others. By 2000, organizers of the Sydney Games budgeted $300 million, which was the approximate security budget of the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. But Vancouver, which was awarded the 2010 Games, budgeted $180 million for security.
Bill Rathburn, the security consultant and the director of security for the Atlanta Olympics, thinks the attacks will lead to more money being spent on security for the London Olympics. Rathburn said he believes it's possible the assault could have been timed with the Olympic announcement.
"This attack could have been orchestrated to attack the winner to demonstrate the terrorists' ability to strike anywhere, any time and to send a message to what the future holds for the western world," said Rathburn, who headed Olympic security for the Los Angeles Police Department during the 1984 Summer Games. "It's a frightening thought, but it's a reality."
Given Thursday's events, details in London's bid book seem chilling. After London 2012 officials wrote that "London will provide a low-risk environment as Host City," the book also included the fact that "there has been no international terrorist attack in the UK since 1994."
Officials also called attention to the fact that the United Kingdom chaired the Olympic Advisory Group, an organization of seven countries that helped Greece deal with the security issues associated with the 2004 Summer Games.
The British government has promised that any cost overruns for security for the Games would be their responsibility, but it's not clear how overruns will be defined.
"The attacks today had to do with mass transit," said Rob Livingstone, editor of GamesBids.com, which tracked the bids for the 2012 Games. "The government would pay for securing the tube, busses and streets anyway. A cost like that shouldn't fall under an organizing committee's budget. Their job is to secure the venues."
But Maples says the organizing committee is also at the mercy of other participating countries, whose officials are sometimes not happy with what the host country's government considers the right investment.
"The price is going up because there is more pressure being put on host committees by countries which are sending their athletes," Maples said. "So you can't build up security on the basis of what you think is necessary, you have to build it up on the basis of what the world thinks you should be doing."
While security is used to thwart terrorist attacks, if an event occurs during the Games, it is unclear whether organizing committees would be able to recoup losses through terrorism insurance.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, based in Paris, recently published a report which found that gaps in terrorism insurance exist because a single large terrorist attack could cause between $50 billion and $250 billion in damage -- beyond the scope of what insurers and banks could support. The attacks of 9/11 led to insured losses of almost $32 billion.
Despite the fact that terrorists have used the Olympics as their stage in the past -- Arab terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Games -- Smith said that, unlike Rathburn, she believes the terrorist attacks in London and their timing with the Olympic announcement is likely a coincidence.
"I'm not completely writing off the timing, but it takes a [terrorist] group so long to set up something like this," she said. "Based on interviews with captured terrorist operatives, planning for an event this intricate might go back a year or two in advance because they have to strategically pick the right people with the right expertise to hit the right targets."
A group called the Secret Organization group of al Qaeda Organization in Europe has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but did not mention any connection with London's being awarded the Olympic Games Wednesday.
"It wasn't an attack against the games," IOC president Jacques Rogge told reporters. "Cities like London, Paris, New York all face these kind of risks, and remember what happened in Moscow and Madrid. There are no safe havens."
While governments spend more and more on technology to hinder terrorism, the reality is that groups with the will to die and kill have proved they can beat the system. And the Olympics is still an attractive venue.
"There is still no bigger stage, anywhere in the world, than during the Olympics," Rathburn said. "If there's a time to send a statement to the whole world -- there's no better time and place to do it. Imagine if the bombings on Thursday occurred during the height of the Olympic Games with London spectators and the media looking on and billions watching on television. That stage might be too great to resist."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
3dMichael Better and Elliott Parshall