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Have the Olympics gotten too big?

London residents today lost a bid to stop rooftop missile deployments. Many Britons are questioning Olympics they say are most notable for super-sized costs and security.

By Staff writer / July 10, 2012

This summer’s London Olympics have tried to attract investment to the East End, a poor part of the city, including the newly opened Westfield Stratford City mall.

Ben Arnoldy/The Christian Science Monitor

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London

Sometime after 11 miles of electric fence went up, and local shops went under after the biggest shopping mall in Europe arrived, and missile batteries appeared on rooftops, East Londoners' enthusiasm waned for the Olympic Games that are coming to their doorsteps.

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Residents living around the new sports venues – not to mention the freshly finished hotels and store fronts – packed into a church recently to discuss how to oppose the missiles. But aside from the unease over living in close proximity to such major weaponry, a wider bitterness permeated the 200-member audience.

When London bid for the 2012 Games, British officials dazzled the Olympic committee with the idea of using the event to lift up and redevelop the down-at-the-heels East End. With just days to go before the opening ceremony, however, some of the most strident critics of the Games are East Enders, many of whom have felt sidelined by security officials and corporate interests that have transformed this long-neglected corner of town.

Boos sounded when one speaker sheepishly admitted to looking forward to the Games. Resident Len Aldis summed up the prevailing mood: "The spirit of the founding of the Olympic Games has been lost."

Britain as a whole, meanwhile, is ambivalent about the Games, in contrast to the joyful eruptions in 2005, when London learned it would make history by hosting its third Olympics. Now, only 44 percent say the country should have offered to host them; and in an age of austerity, the potential price tag to the public of $17 billion – nearly triple the bid estimate – does not sit well. The muchness of it all leaves some asking if the Olympics have gotten too big, and too tied to the ambitions of big business and big government.

"The Olympics is two weeks of games and a week of Paralympics. And for that you are going to … land yourself in monumental debt?" says Iain Sinclair, a noted East End author.

'Lockdown London'

Security preparations are a major part of the overruns and the concerns.

London 2012 will trigger the largest peacetime mobilization of British security forces in modern times, involving 50,000 troops, police, and private contractors. The number of soldiers exceeds Britain's deployment in Afghanistan.

An aircraft carrier will be parked in the Thames, and Typhoon fighter jets will be deployed in west London. On top of citywide cameras, police have access to unarmed drones for surveillance. Security screeners will confiscate liquids from spectators before they enter venues, and officials are warning of significant lines.

The Home Office insists, however, that the effort will be in keeping with a British tradition of understated security despite resonances with the US-led global war on terror.

"Any military resources will support but not supplant our police-led plans. Visitors to the UK can continue to expect to see the 'bobby on the beat,' not soldiers on the street," says James Brokenshire, minister for crime and security, by e-mail.

But, he says, "the UK is hosting the biggest and most high profile event in living memory" – so security agencies are leaving nothing to chance. 

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