“The IOC doesn’t like it when there are giant things that don’t have an alternate use,” said Chris Jopson, the chief architect of the Games. When former London mayor Ken Livingstone pitched the Olympics in 2005, he described it as an urban-improvement bid, designed to turn a blighted, isolated section of East London into an attractive place with better housing and mass transportation.
“Legacy is really in the DNA of London 2012,” says Olympic spokesman Godric Smith. “We didn't just want London 2012 to be remembered as a fantastic summer of sport, but that everything we did had legacy at its start. It will maximize the opportunity for lasting change.”
In general, this plan appears better considered than those of earlier Olympics. But it’s not without its hitches. It has taken years to find a post-Games tenant for the main Olympic stadium, with 80,000 seats; it now appears that it will become the home of the West Ham United soccer team, whose east-end fans are famously enthusiastic. But even their biggest games barely attract half that audience – meaning the stadium will need to be made much smaller.
As the largest sporting event in the world, the Olympics also tends to be the largest security threat in the world. As the Palestinian terror attacks at the 1972 Munich Games or the deadly bombing carried out by an anti-abortion activist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics testify, there are important reasons why countries need to be on guard. But they can get carried away, and oppressive security can overshadow the sports.
That was notably the case four years ago in Beijing, where a “ring of steel” in the form of thousands of People’s Liberation Army soldiers and security police packed the streets and ringed every venue. Visitors were frequently stopped and searched and spent their days passing through numerous security checkpoints. For many tourists, it cast a pall over an otherwise enjoyable Games.
London officials, in a bid to keep people happier, are vowing to make the security as light and inconspicuous as possible.
“This is not a security event that happens to have a little bit of sport thrown in,” said a senior Home Office official responsible for the Olympics (as is British custom, security officials tend to speak off the record). “You will not see oppressive security.”
There will not be military on the streets of London or any other city under any normal circumstances, officials said. Some soldiers will be employed to check ID of visitors as they enter venues, and the Royal Navy will be securing the waters around sailing venues. But otherwise, the official said, London hopes to make its name on its reputation for freedom, not its penchant for policing.
“People can generally do what they want on the streets, photograph anything, even hold peaceful protests, so long as they don’t interfere with the movement of people,” a senior London police official told a press briefing. “We don’t want to tinge what should be an enjoyable sporting experience with heavy-handed policing.”
There are signs, however, that the Brits might not be living up to their principles. This week, journalists discovered that anyone attempting to film or photograph buildings on the Olympic site will be intercepted and questioned by guards, and often have their images seized.