Secret summit on Olympic terror threat

Last updated at 11:24 22 April 2004

Olympic officials from European countries involved in military operations in Iraq have held unprecedented, secret talks about security at this summer's Athens Games.

Britain, Spain, Italy and Poland, whose athletes have become potential terrorist targets, were all called to a hastily-arranged meeting in Paris last Thursday together with Germany and France who will send large teams to the Games.

The talks, described by sources as "informal", were organised and hosted by France's National Olympic Committee at a hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport.

But it is believed that Spain's Olympic Committee was keen to set up the meeting following last month's Madrid train massacre.

Britain was represented by its International Olympic Committee member Craig Reedie at the talks where officials also discussed a unique insurance arrangement for their teams.

Increased concern

There has been increasing concern in recent weeks about the possibility of a terrorist attack at the Athens Games, which open on 13 August. The meeting illustrates how worried Olympic officials have become about the threat.

One source close to the talks said: "It was decided to keep quiet about the meeting because we don't want to make trouble for the Athens organisers. But national Olympic committees and countries have the right to think about security.

"The talks were arranged very much at the last minute. They were about exchanging information about what each country was planning and how."

The Greek government is responsible for the overall safety of athletes and team officials and will deploy more than 40,000 security staff.

Undercover guards

But the Evening Standard revealed last month that Britain and the United States plan to send their own undercover guards to protect athletes when they leave heavily-guarded secure zones, like stadia and the athletes village, and go into public areas.

The Italians and Germans also need to protect their "Olympic Houses" where athletes, sponsors and media enjoy hospitality outside of official Olympic venues. The GB Team does not organise such hospitality.

The French brought up the idea of all the main European countries taking out a joint accident insurance policy. Last week the IOC admitted it was looking for insurance to cover the Games if they are called off.

It is believed, however, that a pan-European policy would be too complex to arrange.

Following the 11 September attacks on the United States in 2001, the Iraq War and the Madrid massacre, the Athens Games will be the most heavily-guarded event in the 108-year history of the Olympics.

While security at the 2000 Sydney Games was largely a police responsibility, the Athens event will be dominated by a military operation which is costing £430million, three times as much as four years ago.

Greece, however, is adamant that no foreign guards will be armed.

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