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Boris to give out Olympic 'BlackBerries'

Handheld devices promote a 'more intimate experience'

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Visitors to the 2012 Olympics may be entertained by “handheld electronic devices” designed to provide spectators with a “more intimate experience”.

The “handheld devices”, it transpired, will most likely be “some sort of Blackberry”, helping visitors to find their way around, and providing them with action replays of key moments in the games.

Transport problems might be soothed by increased use of bicycles. Meanwhile, large areas of central London could be turned over to partying.

For the most part, however, Boris Johnson’s first appearance yesterday as Mayor, answering questions from the the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, left few hostages to fortune. Which is not quite the same as none at all.

As London MP and Committee Member Alan Keen later observed: “He is all too easily able to overwhelm his interrogators with a flood of words, in which the original question gets lost.” Nonetheless, even a representative of the party that lost the London mayoralty to Boris in May was prepared to recognise that, at this stage, there are no sensational disasters on the horizon.

Whether this will still be the case in a year or two is another matter.

On security, Boris was upbeat. There was a budget of £600m in place for policing and that should be more than enough.

The committee expressed some concerns at the loss of two key figures in the security equation: Police Commissioner Ian Blair, who stood down last week, and Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, who has been temporarily relieved of his duties. However, responsibility for putting together security for the games was now with Deputy Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson. And with four years to go, recent events should not have too great an effect on the end result.

Where greater debate may yet be needed is in the nature of that security. The mayor felt that there needed to be a balance between over-intrusive security of the sort present in Beijing, and individual safety.

The experience of the G8 summit in 2005 suggested that if you put a lot of security in one place, the most likely result would be that terrorists would attack somewhere else. Too much security would be overkill.

Perhaps the biggest hostage to fortune was Boris Johnson’s “categoric assurance” that the budget as it stood now was more than enough – and he would not be spending more. Such assurances have been heard before on major public spending projects, and more often than not they have proven false.

The other downside, which formed a recurrent theme of questioning, was comparison with the Beijing Olympics. Several questions returned to the fact that London was planning to produce something “just as good” as Beijing, in its own way – but for half the budget.

The more that Boris and members of the Select Committee repeated that point, the more hollow it sounded. In time, London may come to regret having won the games that followed Beijing. ®

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