Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Athletes Greeted by Armed Guards; Maximum Security for the Stars as War Looms

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Athletes Greeted by Armed Guards; Maximum Security for the Stars as War Looms

Article excerpt


UNPRECEDENTED security has been set up around the American and British athletes at this week's world indoor championships in Birmingham as the Iraq crisis comes to a head.

Police officers armed with machine guns and pistols have been stationed in the lobby of the city centre hotel where the US, British and Israeli teams are staying for the three-day event which starts tomorrow.

The Birmingham championships are the first major event at which a large American team are competing since the escalation of the Iraq crisis. The US have sent 64 athletes plus officials and coaches. The British team have 36 athletes and there is just one Israeli athlete plus a handful of officials.

Every person entering the hotel has to pass through metal-detector machines.

All baggage is being screened as part of a security clampdown which organisers say matches measures taken when presidents and prime ministers attended a G-8 economic summit in the city in 1998.

It is common to see this kind of security at the athletes' village at Olympic Games. But it is unusual to see such tight precautions at team hotels at world championships, although armed police had a high profile at last year's European championships in Munich.

All spectators entering the National Indoor Arena will also be searched and police will be monitoring cars parked near the city centre arena.

Police refuse to say whether the US team also have their own undercover security officials in place but it is likely, given that the Americans took similar measures at last year's World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan.

"Police will be highly visible in the area around the event. Buildings and areas will be thoroughly searched as necessary," a West Midlands police spokesman said. "We have an appropriate firearms capability available at all times and armed officers will be visible. We are constantly in touch with other security and law enforcement agencies."

"In terms of terrorism, there is no specific threat to Birmingham or the West Midlands.

"However we recognise that in general there is increased concern about the possibility of terrorist action. …

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