Fortress Olympics - counting the cost of major event security
By Alphus Hinds and Elina Vlachou
High-profile events such as the summer and winter Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup and Asian Games, have become among the pre-eminent global spectacles of our time as television, the internet and other communications technologies have brought coverage of them to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. However, this coverage ensures that the attraction of a non-state attack at such an event remains high for any group wishing to publicise its cause.
Indeed, major events have been on the target list of terrorist groups since the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, when 11 Israeli athletes were killed. Since that watershed event, security has risen steadily on the agenda of major sporting event planners. Yet it is only since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US that public safety expenditure has become as synonymous with such events as the feats of sporting prowess the games are intended to celebrate.
This shifting security paradigm presents a number of key questions for organisers, namely: how is the major event security paradigm defined? To what extent is hosting the Olympics an accurate litmus test of national security preparedness in general? What has been the perceived wisdom regarding the nature of the terrorist threat to major sporting events and is that perception an accurate one? And finally, what is the future trajectory of the terrorist threat to the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games and what might security for these events look like?
Although Munich 1972 proved to be a historic milestone for major event security planning, its significance in shaping Olympic security for the last three summer Olympic Games has been minimal. The scale and scope of threats arraigned against current major events is of an entirely different order to that which faced planners in 1972.
In recent years, security for Olympic events has been influenced significantly by major terrorist incidents occurring in the lead-up to the games themselves. In the case of Atlanta 1996, the prime security drivers were the bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993 and the federal government building in Oklahoma City in 1995. The attacks represented a cross-section of the domestic and transnational terrorist threat spectrum faced by the US and Atlanta Olympic planners.
Unsurprisingly, the 2004 Athens Games marked a watershed in major event security planning, as concern was heightened over transnational, non-state threats in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US. The Athens Games therefore created a 'garrison' host city and a 'fortress' Olympics where concerns over the terrorist threat - both foreign and domestic - drove the development of ambitious and expensive security procedures. This in turn has led to a mindset among security planners that a bubble of 'absolute security' is necessary for the duration of the event.
In line with this perception, the cost burden of providing security at such events has risen dramatically. The security budgets for both Beijing 2008 and London 2012 are likely to supersede that of Athens 2004, although Athens had a lower security infrastructure base to start with in comparison to a city such as London. 516 of 2,817 words
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