By Philip J. Boyle and Kevin D. Haggerty
February 25, 2009
Now that the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics are receding into memory, we can contemplate the wider significance of this travelling five ring circus. The games now amount to a machine for change, initiating processes that operate at different levels to produce legacies that reverberate long after the closing ceremonies. The Olympics have never been exclusively about sports excellence. The fact that athletes perform under a national flag gives the games larger geopolitical overtones, something that has occasionally threatened to crush any spirit of friendly competition. The transformation of the Olympics into a premiere advertising platform also means that the Olympics have corporate legacies that linger long after the victors sign their sponsorship deals. At the local level, the construction projects that now comprise an inevitable part of planning for the Games can also forever transform host cities.
Securing the Games
There are, however, some less discussed Olympic legacies pertaining to security and surveillance that deserve attention. Since the 1972 Munich Games, when Palestinian militants murdered 11 Israeli athletes, event organizers have been anxious about security. Such fears were borne out again when Eric Rudolph detonated a bomb at the Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, killing one person and injuring over 100 others. The recent spate of terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, London and Madrid have put security on the agenda like never before, altering the face of the Games while also producing a host of wider technological and attitudinal legacies.
The September 11th terrorist attacks helped radically expand the corporate market in security products and services to such an extent that we can now speak of a global ‘homeland security industrial complex.’ While Olympics security only claims a fraction of the total amount spent on security internationally, the security price tag for these events can still be impressive. China probably spent the most ever on Olympics security, but given the secrecy of the Chinese regime we will likely never know the true costs. The Athens Games in 2004 had the highest documented security costs at $1.5 billion (US). While such a sum is dwarfed by the billions of dollars that the U.S. government is now throwing at private financial firms, 1.5 billion is still a lot of money to dedicate to securing a seventeen day event. Indeed, if the money spent only on security for the Athens games were instead distributed equally among the Greek population, every man, woman and child in this country of 11 million people, would have received a check for $1.36 million.