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As I write this warm up, the 2002 Winter Olympics are in full flight at Salt Lake City, Utah. The media response has been rapid and savage. Already dubbed “the Unfriendly Games”, the overwhelming security at the venues and the infrastructure problems is making life extremely difficult by all accounts.1
Is this the shape of things to come? The thin end of the wedge and all that. Following the September 11 tragedy and the fear of terrorist retaliation the need for security paramount, however, there are apparently over 15 000 security personnel in Salt Lake City, more than in Afghanistan! The repeated security checks and bizarre attention to detail are surprising. For example, newspaper reports1 describe journalists attempting to enter the moguls event at 7.00 am and having a delay of over an hour in −12°C temperatures at the security checkpoint. Similar delays occurred at the speed skating venue where overzealous officials apparently insisted on inspecting every single credit card and piece of paper in wallets and dismantling pens, presumably looking for very small bombs. Remember these measures are for people already vetted and security cleared and who carry picture and bar coded ID passes. Heaven help the public.
Not even the athletes are immune. Reports of Larissa Lazutina, the veteran Russian skier having her water bottle examined by security caused some dismay. She was reported as saying “this is my fifth Olympic Games and I have never seen such a thing . . . it is really a put down for the athletes.”1
It is a frightening prospect if heightened security becomes the norm at future sport events. It would seem there must be some sort of compromise possible. Being seen to have a security presence is one thing but when the presence interferes with athletes in their quest for Olympic gold then the whole spirit of the Olympic movement is called into question. One can only wonder if these games were held outside the US, would the same presence be required. The cost of the security measures for these Winter Games we are told is $US 310 million. All we can say that if you want to see at an event, get there early and hope that the person you want to watch is not up early! Oh and bring a blanket—you may have to wait.