It is probably obvious from my last two posts that I was fortunate to have tickets for the Wheelchair Tennis Event at Eton Manor which was part of the London Prepares test Event at the Olympic Park. I was there in the role of BT Olympic Storyteller, and as I have already said, it was a marvellous experience.
We arrived early enough that there were no queues to enter the park, which was employing full security checks just as it will during the Summer Games. The process was quick, efficient and friendly. It was no more onerous than those used at airports. The checkpoints were manned by soldiers. I asked whether the army would be performing this task in the summer. The young man was hesitant and prefaced his answer with the words, ‘I know this is a controversial issue…’. I assured him that for me it wasn’t and we parted with a smile.
Puzzled by this, I pushed it to the back of my mind and got on with the day. During our travels around the park we commented that the parties of soldiers we saw occasionally ‘yomping’ backwards and forwards from McDonalds ( the biggest one I have ever seen!) epitomised fit, friendly, alert teams of men and woman going about their business efficiently and professionally.
More disturbing , in that it is unexpected, was coming face to face with armed policemen, though again, their friendliness and the way they engaged with the public did them great credit. The mounted police we saw later as thousands poured into the stadium for the evening event as always drew a crowd of admiring spectators, which the horses studiously ignored while their riders smiled and moved on. Other police officers patrolled in pairs and were unhesitatingly helpful.
The staff and volunteers we dealt with were also vigilant and welcoming at the same time and I have no doubt were well briefed on what to do in suspicious circumstances. I was aware of a helicopter presence all day long, but high, high in the sky and so barely noticeable.
My point is that I felt safe. What’s more, I was proud to be protected by those whose training and expertise is second to none. I am no-one important, but I imagine that visitors from abroad, athletes, coaches, VIPs would also be reassured by this calm presence.
At home that evening I began to investigate possible reasons for the words of the young soldier on the gate and am amazed to find that there IS controversy, about the army being ‘used’ in this way, about the battleship in the Thames, the weapons deployed on vantage points and I ask myself why?
The armed forces, the police…surely it IS their job to protect the civilian population, to be on the lookout to attack from within as much as from beyond our shores, to protect the nation and its interests!
the way we would slate the ‘powers that be’ should there be a breach during the run up to, or, heaven forbid, the actual Olympic and Paralympic Games;
the horror and shame – yes shame – that would ensue should there be loss of life at the events;
the resulting hit that the economy would take at our perceived inability to preserve law and order;
the horrendous pendulum effect that could lead our armed forces into awful retaliatory actions following such a disaster.
The glass half empty brigade are right when they say, ‘ if they (terrorists) want to find a way to attack, they will,’ but I say – why make it easy for them? If nothing else then the whole escapade will serve as an amazing training opportunity for future vigilance.
I applaud the decision to use and to be seen to use, all the forces at our disposal, and the way these professionals are doing their job is so good that in an obtuse way it is actually adding to the attractions of the games.