Roll out the welcome wagon Sir Roger Bannister, Sebastian Coe, Lennox Lewis, David Beckham, William, Harry, Kate, Pipi, Sir Elton, and Queen Mother. The Tiffin University Olympic Academic Experience is headed to England
The official launch of the 2012 Olympic Academic Experience generated nine applications in the first 24 hours and 25 submissions within the first two weeks, despite reports of rioting, looting, and gang-related mayhem plaguing the future Host City. A total of 20 beds have been reserved for Tiffin University in Central London. The accommodations are conveniently located just two minutes from King's Cross, the underground Eurostar Terminal Train station featured in Harry Potter books. The group also will be a short distance from the riots and from Olympic venues such as Wembley Stadium, Wimbledon, and Hyde Park.
Recent inquiries have focused on how Tiffin University can guarantee the safety and security for those participating in the Olympic Academic Experience, especially given the unsettling media reports of the English riots. The questions are reminiscent to those received regarding security prior to the 2004 experience in Athens, Greece - the first summer Games held after 9-11 attacks and the first Olympic Academic Experience.
The quick answer is simple. No one in the world absolutely can guarantee safety and security. Consider the random bomb exploding from a backpack hidden in a garbage can that killed a bystander in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park in 1996. Consider the random stabbing death of the father-in-law of the USA Men's Volleyball team on top of the Drum Tower in Beijing in 2008. Or, consider the random spectator who attacked a marathoner in the streets of Athens in 2004.
One of the biggest turning points in making security a priority during the Games came after Palestinian terrorists raided the Israeli team headquarters inside the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany in 1972. Eleven Israeli athletes and a German police officer were killed. Mark Spitz, the famed American swimmer who had won an unprecedented seven gold medals, was quickly whisked away since he had finished competing. While fear was rampant and the Games were suspended for one day, most athletes chose to remain and compete. The "Show Must Go On" mentality exuberated by then International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Avery Brundage pervaded the dark cloud of failed security measures.
Thankfully, never since the 1972 Massacre have such mass displays of violence been exhibited during the Games. The 9-11 attacks on American soil in 2001, almost 30 years after the lessons learned from the Munich tragedy, ignited urgency for the IOC to intensify efforts in making security the No. 1 priority for hosting the Games. Host cities have since seen security costs skyrocket in efforts to prevent terrorism, civil discourse, and international threats.
The 2004 Athens Olympics - the first summer Olympics held after 9-11, also was the first to bear a security price tag more than $1 billion. The trend continued to Beijing and now to London. In Athens, two security blimps were contracted to guard the no-fly zone and almost 100,000 police officers were deployed including those from many other countries. Guards with machine guns were common in the streets and underground public transportation venues had no restrooms and no trashcans available. NATO was involved in protecting the city and an unprecedented number of precautionary measures were highly visible. Beijing stepped up security with technological advances for secret intelligence. For instance, a highly sophisticated computer surveillance network with thousands of hidden cameras and microphones analyzed dozens of languages.
One of the learned failures with the recent English riots is that not enough security forces were deployed. The British police could only react to the rioting last week whereas a very proactive approach is to be in place for next year's Olympics. Unfortunately, a day after London was awarded the Games in 2005, a suicide bomber attacked London's transport network, resulting in 52 deaths. Yes, it is another reminder that safety never can be guaranteed.
London has been extremely active this month in preparing for the Games. With rioting close by, executives from the IOC and officials from almost 200 national Olympic committees arrived for logistical meetings about next year's summer games. Whether planned or not, certainly security measures would somehow become part of the agenda.
Since the rioting, two international soccer matches at Wembley Stadium and nearby Waltford were canceled. The world badminton championships, a marathon swim and cycling race in Hyde Park and a beach volleyball tournament at Horse Guards Parade commenced amidst the turbulent streets. A New York Times report quoted top American beach volleyball player April Ross saying that, "if we didn't see the riots on the news, we wouldn't have any idea that they were going on."
The media certainly plays a role to influence public perception, but in London, the riots have been an unmistakable reminder that security must and will remain a priority in spite of astronomical costs. Tiffin University will indeed have a contingency arrive in London for the Olympic Games in 11 short months. All should feel secure in the pre-emptive measures to ensure safety for spectators, residents, and Olympic participants. The predominant culture of the IOC wouldn't have it any other way.
Stay tuned next month for more inspiring and amazing sport stories from our small community in northwest Ohio to around the globe.
Bonnie Tiell is the Dean of graduate studies at Tiffin University