LONDON – Organisers of the Olympics hit back on Sunday at cynics after weeks of negative headlines, saying criticisms over planning mistakes and cost were being outweighed by public excitement as the opening ceremony nears.
Britain’s famously critical media, which has highlighted security and transport problems ahead of the July 27 to August 12 Games, also appeared to take a more positive stance as thousands turned out to cheer the Olympic torch relay through London.
“I think possibly what we’re going through as a nation, as a city is that necessary, pre-curtain up moment of psychological self-depression before the excitement begins on Friday when the curtain goes up,” London Mayor Boris Johnson told the BBC.
“The mood is perceptibly changing, people are starting to get really excited here in London about the arrival of the torch …. The last remaining clouds of dampness and Olympo-scepticism are going to be banished,” he later told Sky News.
Thousands turned out in London on Saturday as the Olympic torch relay began its final leg of its journey around Britain, and on Sunday the flame was carried to the top of the London Eye ferris wheel opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
In the coming days, the torch will be carried around London’s religious, political and royal landmarks, culminating in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron in east London.
The run-up to the Games has been dogged by weeks of rain and difficulties in recruiting enough security staff, prompting the government to draft thousands of extra army personnel to make up for the shortfall.
Transport delays also loom over the games, with border officials planning to strike on July 26 and train drivers in central England set to walk out on August 6-8. London’s underground rail network, a 19th-century creation, may struggle to cope with tens of thousands of Olympic tourists.
“FIASCO, CHAOS AND CRISIS”
Writing in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper, Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Olympic organising committee, said the words “fiasco, chaos and crisis” had become the new currency of journalists, who describe his committee as “dysfunctional”.
“Sometimes you fight back because the reportage bears no resemblance to reality …. you have the insatiable desire to start every explanation to your inquisitor with: ‘Lighten up. We are staging the greatest celebration of sport’,” he said.
Britain’s press however appeared to be joining the Games bandwagon on Sunday, dedicating pages of coverage to the torch relay in London and giving away special Olympic guides and supplements.
“Let’s get the Olympic party started” the Sunday Times said in its editorial, while an article in the Sunday Telegraph urged readers to “celebrate a world united”.
Still, jitters hang over the games, with 2012 the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Munich attack by Palestinian gunmen that killed 11 Israeli Olympic team members a reminder of the security challenges ahead.
“This is an event that is naturally attractive, even if there aren’t concrete alerts. Readiness and vigilance are required …. things like the Munich massacre have happened in the past,” Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told reporters.
The International Olympic Committee on Saturday ruled out marking the anniversary of the Munich killings at the London opening ceremony, despite decades of campaigning by families of the victims for an official commemoration .
The president of Libya’s Olympic Committee Nabil Elalem might make it to the Games after being freed on Sunday, a week after he was taken from his car by gunmen in Tripoli.
Asked if Elalem would go to London, a colleague said: “Maybe in two or three days’ time. The Olympic staff have worked hard for his release.”