It would not take long, however, for the reality of the complex task at hand to set in. Of little help would be several near-calamitous events occurring in the coming days and years. The very day after the announcement of London’s success came a series of coordinated bombings across central London, killing 52 people and indicating that the security threat to Britain would be a major challenge in preparing for the games. Since that day, London has remained a major target for homegrown and foreign terrorist cells, with several plots foiled in the years since but no repeat of that tragic day.
Britain was also dealing with the financial costs and diplomatic fallout of its involvement in the Iraq War, a campaign unpopular with most foreign governments and large numbers of people both at home and abroad. There were fears that the conflict had derailed London’s bid, but the issue ultimately played no integral role in the decision that London was a capable host of the games.
Perhaps the most significant challenge came in 2008, when Britain was rocked by the global financial crisis. However, despite the extended recession in Britain, funding from sponsorship deals and broadcasting contracts have brought in several billion pounds to ensure the completion of the task at hand. Optimists have also pointed out that despite the challenges, preparing for the Olympics has created jobs and will bring in large revenues for Britain.
Yet many remain skeptical about the long-term benefits of the Olympics for London and the British economy. The project has been completed on time and within budget although this is somewhat less of an achievement when considering that the government’s budget was increased from its original £2.4 billion to £9.3 billion. In fact, every Olympic host since 1960 has overspent on the Olympics by an average of 179 percent.
Prime Minister David Cameron insists there will be significant tangible and intangible benefits for Britain, not least of which being financial returns of some £13 billion ($20 billion). To be sure, revenues from tourism alone will be huge, but critics argue that those who truly benefit from the games are the sponsors and the companies that win the contracts.
One contracted company that will not walk away better off is G4S, tasked with providing security for the games. As perhaps the most significant problem to hit this year’s event, G4S recently admitted that it lacked the required 10,000 venue guards for the event due to problems with processing recruits, creating a degree of panic only weeks before the event begins. As a result, some 3,500 British troops have been placed on standby to fill the gap, adding to the 14,000 troops already assigned to security roles. It is reported that G4S will lose up to £50 million ($77 million) in contract penalties and paying for the military’s involvement.
London Mayor Boris Johnson is among those seeking to allay fears that the debacle has exposed gaps in the security of the games. Considered Britain’s largest peacetime security operation ever, additional measures such as fighter jets and surface to air missiles have been brought in to protect against threats from the skies.
Of course, the event would not be quintessentially British if there weren’t multiple things to complain about. Increased congestion on London’s already busy streets has many locals complaining, particularly about specially designated “Olympic lanes,” reserved for athletes and Olympic officials. Frustrated taxi drivers are one of several groups that has or is threatening to strike, along with airport security (although that strike was canceled on Wednesday).
There are also a number of planned protests against the games. Groups such as Occupy London will take to the streets in opposition to the government’s spending on the event in a time of financial strain, and ultimately the cost imposed on the taxpayer. Joining them in a march on Saturday will be War on Want, a campaign against the placement of the aforementioned missiles on the tops of London buildings.
It is too early to speculate whether the games will be good for Britain in the long-term. What is clear is that Britain has overcome a number of obstacles to get to this point. Excessive complaining from the British and scathing headlines in the tabloids should, as always, be taken with a pinch of salt, and should not, at least for the next 17 days, overshadow the remarkable spectacle that is the Olympic Games. Besides, the rain finally stopped to make way for the sun in London, so it can’t all be bad.