Paul Deighton smiled as he walked through the Athlete’s Village at London’s Olympic Park.
Nothing appeared to be bothering the chief executive of the London Olympics. Not the growing scandal over security, or the smattering of unfinished venues, or the transportation tie-ups. Not even the pouring rain seemed to get under his skin. “Welcome. Enjoy,” he said with a smile when stopped for a brief interview Monday afternoon. “The sun is going to creep through.”
While Sebastian Coe is the public face of these Olympics as chairman of the organizing committee, it’s Deighton, a former investment banker with Goldman Sachs, who manages the nuts and bolts of the Games’ $14-billion budget. And on Monday that included making sure the village was open and ready to welcome its first athletes.
“We’re hoping everybody settles in, gets into their zone, gets into their training and is ready to compete,” he said.
Only a handful of athletes arrived Monday, too few for even an official welcoming party. That gave the village, and a few shops adjacent to it, an eerie silence Monday with barely a few dozen people strolling along the long roadways. A few of the apartments had national flags, but most were stark and bare.
In one square a troupe from the National Youth Theatre finished practising the official welcome ceremony for arriving teams. It’s a dance routine complete with giant puppets, strange-looking bicycles and a “Queen of the Games.” It was too wet Monday for the rehearsal to include a giant red carpet which is supposed to be rolled out as national teams arrive. On this chilly day the carpet laid rolled up under a canopy.
The venues “are pretty much ready,” added Deighton. “There are always some final bits and pieces, like putting on the look. It has been raining a lot, so at outdoor venues, you sort of wait for the last minute and polish things up and get them ready.”
Construction workers could be seen around the Olympic Park which houses the massive stadium and a dozen or so other venues.
But the bigger concern, as athletes and officials begin to arrive, is security. Games organizers and the government have been scrambling to cope with the failure of security giant G4S Plc. to deliver a sufficient number of security officers. The company won a $440-million contracts in 2008 to provide most of the security staff for the Games, including 10,400 officers and 3,300 student trainees. But last week the company’s CEO Nick Buckles announced G4S had only managed to train about 4,000 staff and the company won’t be able to meet its target. “We have recently encountered significant difficulties in processing applicants in sufficient numbers through the necessary training, vetting and accreditation procedures. As a result, we will be unable to deliver all of the necessary workforce numbers,” the company said in a statement.
Things got worse Monday when reports surfaced that only 17 of 65 G4S-trained staff showed up to secure a hotel for Olympic soccer players in Manchester. Similar no-shows were reported at other Olympic sites.
Under fire for the mess, the government has stepped in and ordered in 3,500 soldiers. That’s in addition to the 7,500 soldiers already manning various venues. G4S has said it will pick up the costs of the extra personnel, turning what was once going to be a profitable venture into one that will lose up to $80-million.
Deighton played down the controversy Monday.
“I’m not worried about it,” he said, referring to G4S’s inability to supply all required staff. “The reason we made the move [to bring in the army] we’ve made is to ensure that there’s nothing to worry about.”
He got some support from Tessa Jowell, a Labour MP and former cabinet minister who helped Britain secure the Games. Jowell was at the Athlete’s Village Monday as well and she had high praise for the organization. “The excitement is palpable,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”