Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, widely hailed for his success in managing the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, is currently in London to attend the 2012 Summer Games. He offered some comments about the London games to NBC News: ???It???s hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting. The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials – that obviously is not something which is encouraging.???
Romney also asked if the British people would ???come together and celebrate the Olympic moment,??? adding ???that???s something which we only find out once the Games actually begin.???
The items Romney mentioned could fairly be described as ???disconcerting.??? Security resources are stretched very tight. The security firm Romney was referring to, G4S, under-delivered by several thousand staffers, prompting the British military to step in and provide the necessary manpower.
Terror threats are a real concern. A false bomb threat was called into authorities at the busy port of Poole on Wednesday, claiming that an explosive device had been placed on a ferry packed full of innocent people. A major terror alert was triggered, jamming the phone lines with frantic preparations for a full-scale terrorist attack, which prevented the merry hoaxer from calling back and telling the police it was all a big joke. The police forces in question were already heavily engaged in patrolling the waters to be used in Olympic sailing events.
The hoaxer turned out to be a cop named Hatef Nezami, who the UK Daily Mail says ???has completed a regional Special Branch terrorism course.??? The report continues, ???Remarkably, the Daily Mail understands that Mr. Nezami, who has worked as a detective, has not faced criminal or disciplinary proceedings and was simply placed on uniform patrol at another station.???
If I might borrow Mr. Romney???s words, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.
As for the immigration strike, that was a very real threat, which the union in question only called off yesterday. Had it gone ahead as planned, it would have pretty much paralyzed Heathrow Airport. The government convinced union workers to hold off on the strike by reminding them how bad it would look, with the whole world watching Britain during the Olympics.
Romney???s criticism, however well-founded, was not taken well by the British government or media ??? the latter of which loves to egg on political food fights. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, held a huge rally in Hyde Park, asking the crowd: ???Mitt Romney wants to know whether we???re ready! Are we ready????
Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters, ???We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it???s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.??? The British press sniggered that this was intended as a shot at Salt Lake City.
By Thursday, everyone involved had adopted a more positive attitude. Romney declared that ???the weather could not be better??? fortunately the sunshine is out and the warmth is here. The athletes have arrived, and the torch is about to come into London, and I know the spirit of the people in this community will welcome the athletes of the world. My experience is that this event will change the hearts of many, many people; anyone who gets the opportunity to touch the Olympics will long remember the kind of service they can provide to the people of the world and remember the heroics of the athletes themselves.???
According to the UK Guardian, when asked about the little snafu in which the North Korean soccer team was identified on a stadium screen with the South Korean flag, Romney allowed that ???of course there will be errors from time to time, but those are all overshadowed by the extraordinary demonstrations of courage, character and determination by the athletes. The games are, after all, about the athletes, the volunteers and the people of the community that come together to celebrate those athletes. They are not about the Organizing Committee. And as soon as the sporting events begin, we all forget the organizers and focus on the athletes.???
Cameron, for his part, said ???I felt a vote of confidence??? from what Romney said during a meeting at the Prime Minister???s residence. Cameron also received an invitation to visit Salt Lake City from the office of the current mayor, which said ???we???d love to have him, and are happy to send a map so he doesn???t run into any trouble locating ???the middle of nowhere.??????
In politics, particularly of the international variety, the identity of the speaker inevitably becomes part of the message. Romney was echoing concerns voiced by many people in Britain about the Olympics, but those concerns naturally sound a bit different coming from a foreign visitor, especially when he???s considered an authority on managing the Games.