London Olympics 2012: ‘Yes, we can’ – London hits back at Mitt Romney
AFTER a seven-year warm up in which Britain’s ability to cross the finishing line has come under scrutiny time and again, David Cameron last night urged the country to go for gold as the Greatest Show on Earth finally begins in London.
In a rallying call to usher in the first day of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, the Prime Minister said it was time for Britain to seize a “great moment” and put its “best foot forward” before a watching world.
His comments came in the wake of doubts about the Games expressed by Mitt Romney, the man vying to wrest control of the White House from Barack Obama. The Republican US presidential candidate warned of “disconcerting” issues surrounding the event and questioned the enthusiasm of the British people for the Olympics, saying it was “hard to know” whether history would judge them a success.
His comments, on the eve of the opening ceremony, spurred Mr Cameron to mount a rigorous defence of Britain’s capacity to impress with its hosting of the Games, but not before appearing to chide the US politician.
With travel problems continuing to plague London’s stretched infrastructure and doubts as to whether this evening’s £26 million ceremony will sell out, Mr Romney’s unfavourable assessment did little to bolster confidence. It was also something of a foreign policy gaffe for the presidential contender, who was in Britain to forge ties with the UK government.
Last night, London mayor Boris Johnson led crowds at Hyde Park in chants of “Yes, we’re ready” in response to Mr Romney’s remarks.
Earlier, in a what seemed a cutting rebuke, Mr Cameron said it would doubtless be easier to stage the Olympics in the “middle of nowhere”, a reference to the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, that Mr Romney helped organise.
The schism between the two men had its roots in an interview the former Massachusetts governor gave to NBC News, which aired during his visit to Britain. In it, he made clear his reservations about London’s ability to make a success of the Games.
“It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out,” he said, describing recent concerns over G4S security and the threat of border staff going on strike as “disconcerting”.
“The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and Customs officials – that obviously is not something which is encouraging,” he said.
He called into question whether Britons were behind the Games, saying: “Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that’s something which we only find out once the Games actually begin.”
Mr Cameron dismissed Mr Romney’s concerns, describing London 2012 as a great moment for the UK to come together.
Speaking in front of the Olympic Stadium, which will host tonight’s opening ceremony, he said: “Let’s put our best foot forward. We’re an amazing country with fantastic things to offer. This is a great moment for us, let’s seize it.
“Our fingers are crossed for everything from the events to the weather to the transport infrastructure and everything else.
“But, from where I stand, I think we’re set for a really remarkable few weeks for Britain, when we welcome the world, say this is a great country to come, enjoy the Olympics, but also think of all the other things we’ve got to offer.”
He added: “Of course, this is a time of some economic difficulty for the UK, everybody knows that. But look at what we’re capable of achieving as a nation, even at a difficult economic time.
“In terms of the country coming together, I think the torch relay really demonstrates that this is not a London Games, this is not an England Games, this is a United Kingdom Games.”
Those exchanges were tempered later in the day when the two men met at Downing Street. Afterwards, Mr Romney, who is trailing Mr Obama by a narrow margin in the latest polls, struck a more contrite note and expressed confidence the Games would be a triumph.
Asked whether his comments to NBC meant he was concerned about the smooth running of the event, he replied: “I am very delighted with the prospects of a highly successful Olympic Games. What I have seen shows imagination and forethought and a lot of organisation. I expect the Games to be highly successful.”
He added: “It is impossible for absolutely no mistakes to occur. Of course there will be errors from time to time, but those are all overshadowed by the extraordinary demonstrations of courage, character and determination by the athletes.”
Despite his qualifying remarks, the embarrassing episode comes as London gears up for the largest security operation in Britain’s peacetime history, coupled with the challenge of filtering hundreds of thousands of people through the capital between events.
With controversy surrounding the failure of private security firm G4S to supply adequate numbers of security guards, Mr Cameron conceded there were lessons to be learned from the debacle, which has forced the government to boost the number of troops deployed at the Games to about 18,200.
But he insisted the military, police, intelligence services and security guards were all working together to protect the city.
Elsewhere, the travel problems surrounding the Games continued yesterday, with the Heathrow Express rail service temporarily shutting down, causing disruption for passengers flying into the capital.
Mr Cameron, who travelled to the Olympic Park on the Jubilee Tube line, said that, overall, the public transport system was holding up well. But he added that people had to be prepared for some difficulties when one of the busiest cities in the world was hosting the Olympics.
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