Qantas ready to rescue Olympic team

Qantas ready to rescue Olympic team, by Anthony Dennis, Tom Allard and Richard Hinds - 6th May 2004
(Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

Australia's Olympic team will travel with armed guards and have planes ready for quick evacuation after bomb blasts in Athens reignited fears of a terrorist attack at the Games.

Three explosions outside a central police station yesterday raised new security concerns with less than 100 days to go before the world's biggest sporting event begins.

A police spokesman said one officer was slightly injured when time bombs badly damaged the station in the Kalithea district, close to hotels where Olympic officials will stay during the August 13-29 Games.

Investigators believe the bombing, which was preceded by an anonymous telephone warning, was the work of a local group and had no connection to the Olympics.

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has confirmed that the movement of its athletes in Athens is likely to be limited to the Olympic village and sport venues, with bus guards provided by the organisers.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has already approved a range of security measures to protect the 469 athletes, as well as officials.

Two teams of six intelligence, defence and police officials are already in Athens and another four federal police officers will be sent to liaise with Greek authorities. Three security experts will travel with the team.

Mr Howard yesterday ordered ASIO to review the threat assessment for Greece - a possible precursor to tougher travel warnings.

Asked if Australia would follow the US and Britain in providing its own armed guards for the team, Mr Howard said he would not rule out any response. "It's obviously disturbing," he told the ABC's Lateline last night. "It re-emphasises the need for tight security."

The AOC said it could not dissuade team members from withdrawing because of personal safety concerns.

"The AOC can't compel any athlete to represent Australia at the Olympic Games," said Bob Elphinston, the secretary-general. "In normal circumstances when athletes are selected it's probably the greatest sporting occasion of their life. So they'll need to weigh up that decision very carefully."

A spokesman for Qantas, a team sponsor which is flying the athletes and officials to and from Athens, said last night that at least two planes would be diverted, probably from routes in Europe, to Greece if there were an emergency that required evacuation.

Mr Elphinston said that athletes would almost certainly be required to avoid "soft target" public areas in Athens such as cafes, nightclubs and shopping areas.

The Greek organising committee will use 5000 police and troops to guard venues and the Olympic village. Several other countries will help with surveillance and intelligence.

The Hockeyroos veteran Katrina Powell said she had faith in the security. "As an athlete I think we are going to be the most protected people on the planet at the time. There has just been so much money spent on it."

Among the immediate security concerns for the AOC is the arrival of the Olympic torch early next month, when it comes to Sydney and Melbourne.

Earlier this week the NSW and Victorian governments settled a dispute with the Athens organisers over security for the two-day event, with armed local police to protect the relay.

The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said the Olympics were an obvious and spectacular target for terrorists. While the bombing did not look "too serious", with the Games near the Government wanted to be sure of security.


Official websites


Australian Olympic Committee

Prime Minister of Australia


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