When I arrived in England last week, the big news was that thousands of security staff, employed by a company called G4S, had not been showing up for work. Thousands! Where the heck were they? Had someone tweeted the weather was nicer in Spain and sparked a mass migration south? I mean it’s one thing to ‘chuck a sickie’ but when thousands do it every day, that’s taking ‘skiving off’ to a whole new level.
The head of G4S was hauled up before a parliamentary inquiry and asked why it was that with the Olympic Games just days away, a great many of his staff appeared to have made the Guinness Book of Records for ‘bludging’. His answer of, “Well um, you see, ah, it’s like this…” saw the army and local police from across the UK brought in to plug the gaps.
That was been a great result for those of us working at the International Broadcast Centre in Stratford, a suburb in London’s inner east. The soldiers are thorough but fast, friendly and self-assured. They scan the bar codes on our accreditation passes and patiently remind us to take our mobile phone out of our pocket. They do this without a hint of needing to demonstrate who’s in charge.
You might think the conversation would be abrupt and per functionary but far from it. In my first encounter with Olympic security, I met a giant of a man from the 5th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. He was more than 200 centimetres tall and blocked so much sunlight, standing in his presence was like being in a partial eclipse. He greeted everyone with a smile and handed out trays – just like at the airport – for our laptops. When he scanned my colleague’s accreditation, it showed she was from New Zealand. He remarked she had come a long way and that he was originally from Fiji. As our bags were searched and passed along the conveyor belt, he chatted about super rugby and his team, Canterbury. When she asked how it came to be he was a soldier in the Scottish guards, he and his mates cracked up laughing. We still don’t know why.
The point is, despite the fact many of these soldiers had their leave revoked after tours of duty in places like Afghanistan, to search through backpacks, they go about their job in good humour whilst maintaining their attention to detail. Wives, husbands and children looking forward to spending time with their loved ones were left standing at the doorstep in disbelief when the government said last week they were needed to guard the games. Well thank you to those families. I for one would be happy if they got free tickets to an Olympic event. The soldiers have not only replaced those civilian security guards on the world’s biggest ‘sickie’, they have given those of us covering the games a sense of security too.