December 5, 2020

Hoop Dreams: Riots cast shadow over Games

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LONDON (AP) — Four days of rioting last August have cast a shadow over the neighbourhoods where the world’s top athletes will compete next summer at the 2012 London Games. Some Olympic events will occur just a few miles away from areas hit by Britain’s worst riots in a generation.

Both London and the Olympics were irrevocably altered.

And so were the lives of those who live here. Sam Kato, 12, practices with the Newham All Star Sports Academy, an oasis in east London from the crime, gangs and drugs that helped fuel last summer’s riots. The program helps keep kids out of trouble and teaches them the value of teamwork.

“It’s like a family to me,” the 6-foot-1 Kato said as the gym reverberated with basketballs rhythmically hitting the wooden floor. “If there were more programs like this, I doubt there would be riots.”

Newham hosts the Olympic Park, center of the 2012 games.

Complex security plans for the Olympics have been altered after the riots, which shocked Britain and damaged London’s image abroad. Those plans were also updated after student demonstrations in London that included a spontaneous attack on Prince Charles and wife Camilla and the “Occupy London” encampment near the city’s financial district.

The riots exposed the limits of what police could handle in terms of dramatic and unforeseen events. After a weak initial response, thousands of police officers were brought in to help swamp London’s streets in a show of force, discouraging further trouble.

The Olympics will already keep 12,000 officers occupied on the busiest days, so any riot repeat will push resources further still.

“(Planners) are learning the lessons from the riots,” said Margaret Gilmore, an expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a respected think tank. “Some demonstrations and protests are almost inevitable and they are likely to take a tougher line and use more officers in dealing with riots.”

Fears over street unrest come alongside the biggest Olympic worry: terrorism. Security has been an intricate part of the games since a terror attack at the 1972 Olympics in Munich killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. London has not been immune from terror attacks — four suicide bombers targeted the city’s transit network in 2005, killing 52 commuters.

But the advent of riots was a late addition to the planning mix, which has been under way for years. Even now plans are still being refined.

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