LONDON – With the Olympics just two weeks away, embarrassing logistical problems about security, staff, phones and traffic made the mood Thursday in London as gloomy as the weather.
British lawmakers clamored for an explanation of why the armed forces need to field more troops to protect the games, eclipsing the day that U.S. track star Michael Johnson held the Olympic flame aloft at sunrise at the ancient monument at Stonehenge.
London’s aging infrastructure kept offering up unpleasant surprises as the main road near Heathrow Airport remained closed following emergency repairs. The British mobile phone company O2 acknowledged that thousands of customers had been affected by outages on its network – a bad omen ahead of the first iPhone games.
And then there was the weather: rain on and off and on again.
London’s Hyde Park has trucked in piles of wood chips to cover a muddy quagmire after the wettest June on record.
Here’s a look at the tsunami of bad news.
Bring on the troops
British Home Secretary Theresa May confirmed that the government will deploy an additional 3,500 servicemen at the London Olympics amid concerns that a private security contractor had failed to recruit enough staff. The firm G4S had been enlisted to provide the bulk of the 13,200 private security guards across 100 Olympic venues.
British lawmakers questioned why the apparent gap in security had surfaced so late.
“G4S have let the country down and we have literally had to send in the troops,” said opposition Labour Party lawmaker Keith Vaz, demanding to know when the issue was first identified and if G4S – which has millions in contracts from the British government – will suffer any financial penalties.
The line forms here
The British media has been full of bad news lately about the queue, that long line at passport control while entering the island nation.
Those lines have been blamed on everything from airline schedules to too much wind, but everyone is looking for a way to bring the wait down. More people than ever used London’s Heathrow Airport last year – nearly 70 million passengers – straining its traditional immigration desks.
A report from John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, warned that border staff with only basic training and little immigration experience were being used to cut the length of the queues.
London’s aging transport network continued to befuddle planners who have been working – some for years – to get the city spruced up for the games and for the hundreds of thousands of tourists expected.
The main road linking Heathrow to London and Olympic Park remained closed. The Highways Agency said repairs had reached a critical stage and would continue on a damaged overpass at least until the weekend. But the big question mark remains as to whether the entire London transport infrastructure can handle the strain. The city’s residents are accustomed to overcrowding and delays but tourists may find it shocking.
Calling for help
The scariest development for many has been a mobile phone outage. British mobile phone company O2 restored its 2G and 3G services after a breakdown that hit some customers for as long as 24 hours Wednesday and Thursday.
That’s not a good omen for the vast amounts of tweets and photos expected to be sent during what has been dubbed the “Twitter Games.” Those responsible for London’s fiber optic cables, phone masts and Wi-Fi hotspots are bracing for a tsunami of data.