Armed to the ringsSoldiers to outnumber athletes at Athens
By STEVE BUFFERY, TORONTO SUN
How would you like to be an American athlete taking part in the XXVIII Olympiad this summer in Athens, Greece? Your nation has become a pariah in the international community, despised the world over. That might not be fair, but as the world's only superpower, and one intent on establishing "American values" to the far corners of the globe, resentment and anger are burdens U.S. citizens now carry.
Hell, years ago, if you remember, American kids used to trek around Europe and Asia with Canadian flags sewn on their backpacks. And that's before George W. started kicking butt.
It's a sad state of affairs. American athletes already have been encouraged by their Olympic Committee not to wear anything identifying them as Americans outside the venues and athletes' village while in Athens.
Part of the fun at any Olympic Games is watching the athletes buzz around the host city wearing their national team uniforms, sitting in cafes and bars, flirting with athletes from other countries, cheering on their compatriots at events.
It's going to be tough on Americans at the Athens Games. It's going to be tough on everybody. Even Canadians.
Canadian Olympic Committee officials are confident that our athletes will not be targeted specifically at the Games, but nevertheless, the COC is taking extreme and unprecedented measures to ensure the safety of its wards -- including one very dramatic one.
The Toronto Sun has learned that the COC has secured a number of safe houses in the Athens area, equipped with food and water, in case the athletes need to be evacuated from the village.
On top of that, each team leader will be given a satellite phone in case the regular phone lines are cut.
Athletes also will be given phones or radios to use in case of an emergency and if there is a major disaster, such as a terrorist attack or earthquake, 1-800 numbers will be made available for anyone to use to be able to gather information, one in Greece for Canadian athletes and officials there, and one in Canada for parents and members of the public.
Canadian team chef de mission Dave Bedford said the RCMP will monitor the security situation leading up to and during the Games and will respond as threat levels change.
As of now, only one RCMP officer is scheduled to attend the Games, but that could change, particularly in light of Wednesday's bomb blasts in Athens.
"I think we would be putting our head in the sand if we said we don't have to be concerned about it," Bedford said, in response to Wednesday's blasts. "In this day and age we have to be concerned about it.
"We have to be diligent and aware of the surroundings. But we're not going to stop living. We're going to the Games and we're going to put on one helluva show."
As the 1996 Atlanta Games become known as the Tacky Olympics, the Athens Olympics will undoubtedly become known as the Armed Camp Games.
There will be at least 45,000 Greek military and security personnel crawling over the city, outnumbering the athletes 4-1.
With security the No.1 priority in Athens, what's going to be lost at these Games is any kind of atmosphere.
Lineups to get through security checkpoints at venues and villages will be long and slow. Everytime you turn around, a soldier and cop will be lingering nearby.
"To put that 45,000 number in perspective, for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, the original plan is for 4,500 security personnel," Bedford said. "So we're very confident that the venues and (athlete's) village will be among the safest places to be."
But at what cost?
Olympic Games are supposed to be about atmosphere.
The unprecedented security measures threaten to suck the life out of the Athens Olympics. Add that to the fact that there are still concerns as to whether all the venues will be ready and whether the transportation system will be up to snuff.
Athens is a crowded, noisy city at the best of times. For two weeks in August, it may, in fact, be a nightmare.