As predicted, the Olympic Torch has been extinguished in response to pressures from public order management failures. It was extinguished not once, but twice, calling into real doubt the value of the Olympic Torch’s relay from Greece to the site of the Games in Bejiing. For the more esoteric among us, a philosophical conundrum, “If the Olympic Torch goes out, is it still the Olympic Torch, or just an expensive, almost perpetual cigarette lighter?”
For those of us concerned with the maintenance of public order, we face a different question: “How do you maintain security along a road that has to be run by a symbol that must be seen and cannot be secured in a vehicle?”
Of additional concern is that the Chairman of London’s Olympics, Lord Sebastian Coe, was heard by Channel 4 press criticizing the Chinese security team, calling them a bunch of thugs. The accusation creates additional pressure on the local law enforcement, as they have to maintain the outer cordon, and control the Chinese Inner Cordon whose very actions can seriously exacerbate the situation.
With the San Francisco PD next in line to face the public’s unhappiness with the Tibet situation – the only US police department to have the daunting task – lessons must be learnt from the previous encounters. The movement of the Torch offers a fantastic example to demonstrate the differences in approach, and the need for thorough collaboration between security organizations and police forces on not only the operational elements of a protection operation, but also on establishing what is appropriate and permissible both politically and under the law.
The Tibet situation and the Torch Relay are becoming inextricably linked, and the protests have had an effect by forcing a meeting between the IOC and the Chinese Government. This lesson will not be lost on the potential protestors further along the Olympic Relay route, and all those with their own agendas to pursue, at events like the Conventions later this year.