LONDON — Upon arrival in the Olympic city, it rained. No surprise. The newspapers were full of stories about security concerns relating to the Summer Games, which open on July 27. Also no surprise.
Security is issue No. 1 at the Games. It has to be, and has been ever since Munich and 1972, when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and then murdered 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. Five of the terrorists also died amid the 1972 attack; so did a German policeman.
The headlines here are very real, and urgent.
At the same time, it may well be the case that an item mostly making the rounds of celebrity shows and snarky websites back in the United States reveals the real vulnerability of Olympic security.
As U.S. women’s soccer goaltender Hope Solo underscores in her recent comments to ESPN The Magazine about the avowed sex-fest at the Olympic Village in Beijing in 2008, it’s who gets in purportedly off-limits Games space, and how, that is most worrisome. She alleges in part — and this is arguably the dullest part of what she said — that she “may have” snuck a “celebrity” into the village and back out without getting caught.
Without the appropriate Olympic credential, the rule regarding the Village in particular is simple: you don’t get to go there. At the same time, the process of who might get in and out can be endlessly susceptible to human judgment. That means there’s the potential for mistake. When it comes to security, any mistake can be a huge mistake.
That’s the lesson of 1972. And that is the “never again” that must, really, never be again.
First, the British headlines.
With two weeks to go, it developed that the company — it’s called G4S — charged with recruiting some 10,400 personal to protect stadiums and other sites had pretty much botched the job. The British military was being called in, 3,500 troops on top of the 7,500 already detailed to some 100 venues.
The British minister in charge of the Olympics, Jeremy Hunt, went on a Sunday talk show to say that G4S boss Nick Buckles had apologized and the company would be paying 30 million pounds, or about $46 million, for the last-minute military deployment as well as a penalty of up to 20 million pounds, or another $31 million, for not living up to its part of the deal. Some number of the soldiers have just come back from Afghanistan.
Speaking Sunday on the BBC Radio 5 Live Sportsweek program, Sebastian Coe, the head of the London 2012 organizing committee, said, “We have two weeks to get this right and we will get this right,” adding he was “confident” these would be “safe and secure Games.”
It is a fact of Olympic life, and especially post-9/11, that security involves a massive show of force. There will be missiles on rooftops here. That’s part of what the thousands of soldiers are about as well.
It’s at the point of person-to-person contact, though, that the system — any system — is most susceptible.
This is where Solo’s remarks bear special scrutiny. In its entirety, here is the relevant passage from ESPN The Magazine:
“After the Beijing Games, the women went, well, Hollywood. Solo recounts the story: ‘I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but we met a bunch of celebrities. Vince Vaughn partied with us. Steve Byrne, the comedian. And at some point we decided to take the party back to the village, so we started talking to the security guards, showed off our gold medals, got their attention and snuck our group through without credentials — which is absolutely unheard of.’ And, she adds, ‘I may have snuck a celebrity back to my room without anybody knowing, and snuck him back out. But that’s my Olympic secret.’ The best part, according to Solo? ‘When we were done partying, we got out of our nice dresses, got back into our stadium coats and, at 7 a.m. with no sleep, went on the Today show drunk. Needless to say, we looked like hell.’ ”
The U.S. Olympic Committee, asked for a response to her comments, declined.
At least two possibilities come to mind when assessing what she had to say:
One, Solo made her comments as part of an elaborate double game, with all relevant security agencies on board ahead of time so that they knew they were plugging an obvious hole.
If that seems implausible, two:
What she, and some unnamed number of others on the U.S. soccer team, did in 2008 arguably goes well beyond the self-indulgent. It raises serious questions about judgment and accountability, and the privilege of wearing a Team USA uniform.
To be clear, there’s no argument here that sex is bad, or that having sex in the Village is bad. Many other athletes were quoted in the story about that. Solo also said in the piece, “There’s a lot of sex going on.” And: “… I’ve seen people having sex right out in the open. On the grass, between buildings, people are getting down and dirty.”
Don’t care about any of that other than — be safe.
Solo, meanwhile, is supposed to be a sponsor’s 2012 dream, featured on magazine covers, a recent contestant on “Dancing with the Stars,” her agent, Richard Motzkin, telling the Los Angeles Times in April, “Outside of Michael Phelps, I think she’ll be the highest-profile U.S. athlete heading into the London Olympics. By nature that makes her sort of the highest-profile female U.S. athlete in any sport.”
With that profile comes responsibility. Little girls — and boys — want to be like their Olympic heroes.
Drunk on the Today show? Really?
Last week, Solo was hit with a public warning by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency after she tested positive for a banned substance in a urine test. She said it was for a prescription medicine used for pre-menstrual purposes and did not know it contained a diuretic; she said it was an honest mistake.
And now this.
It’s not clear from the remarks to ESPN whether, for instance, Vince Vaughn was among those who was snuck into the Beijing Village. If that was the case, maybe it makes for a funny story that Vince Vaughn — Vince Vaughn?! — got to party in the Village.
But what if next time it’s someone with malevolent intent who gets snuck into the Village? What then?
How exactly was a security guard on the ground in Beijing supposed to tell the difference? Whoever was in on that party got in after the women on the U.S. soccer team flashed their medals. What, like this was a rope line in Hollywood?
In 1972, security was lax to begin with. But the terrorists got in because they dressed up like athletes and real athletes helped them get over a chain-link fence near Gate 25A to the Munich Village.
In the movies, Vince Vaughn can be funny. Olympic security is not funny, and it’s not a game.
If the pictures of the murdered Israelis, which I have seen, are too graphic; if the idea of talking to the survivors of those killed, like Ankie Spitzer, which I have done, seems too personal; then I have an idea for Hope Solo, and as many others on the U.S. women’s soccer team who also need to understand.
They should sit in front of a television and watch some of the footage from 1972, and especially the part where Jim McKay reports the dreadful news. It might spark a better appreciation of what’s genuinely at stake:
“We’ve just gotten the final word. When I was a kid, my father used to say our greatest hopes and worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears have been realized tonight.
“They have now said that there were 11 hostages. Two were killed in their rooms this morning — excuse me, yesterday morning. Nine were killed at the airport tonight.
“They’re all gone.”