Ensuring the safety of thousands of people is one of the key challenges faced by any country hosting a major sporting event.
With the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games having just passed their midpoint, it is a good time to take a step back from the action and review the security measures put in place to mitigate potential risks for both athletes and tourists.
Maximising onsite security
Around 10,000 security personnel have been deployed for the Gold Coast games, made up of at least 3,500 police, 2,000 military personnel and 4,000 private security contractors.
These personnel have been tasked to keep security tight around venues with strictly controlled entry and searches of spectators being conducted. This ring of security has been further bolstered by the establishment of 23 Protective Security Zones (PSZs) around both venues and sensitive areas in the Gold Coast as well as parts of Cairns, Brisbane and Townsville.
PSZs have also been enforced on trains and at certain transport hubs in the region, with Police being given increased public order powers to move on groups or individuals from public places and PSZs.
While such security measures might sound satisfactory, the Gold Coast Commonwealth games security organisers have had to cope with hundreds of staff quitting during the opening week, leaving venues, athletes and spectators potentially exposed.
Anonymous security sources have blamed private contractors lack of work ethic and casual disregard of duty as responsible for the issue. Australian news outlets have reported at time senior security guards can’t be sure that anyone is even on the end of the radio when trying to communicate.
These issues have been attributed to the large number of contractors flown-in for the games who have been labelled by senior staff as ‘just not up to the job’. This highlights the importance of vetting all hired security contractors and ensuring they can deliver on the operation, especially at major sporting events.
Minimising local criminal activity
Levels of criminal activity in the Gold Coast are relatively high compared to the rest of Australia and generally linked to high levels of narcotics use and the presence of youth gangs in the city.
With the Commonwealth Games bringing tens of thousands of foreign travellers to the Gold Coast, these tourists would have presented an attractive targets for thieves.
To mitigate the potentially significant increase of petty crime during and around the games, especially crowded areas such as beaches, local police have maintained a heavy presence in these areas.
The increased presence of security personnel at transport hubs and in the vicinity of games venues has had a deterrent effect against petty theft.
However, with the increasing number of security personnel walking away from their jobs at the Games, this may create additional strain on other security personnel, especially the local police, and leave tourists vulnerable to petty crime.
Mitigating political + terror risks
The Commonwealth Games has presented an opportunity for certain groups to promote political causes.
While local environmental issues such as coal mining and the protection of the Great Barrier Reef haven’t seen much action, it has been the rights of indigenous peoples that has been the most prominent political cause at the Gold Coast games.
The Aboriginal protesters have been trying to draw wider attention to the issues that impacted and continue to affect Australia’s indigenous population. Referring to themselves as the ‘Stolenwealth Games’, the protesters staged an on-road sit-in blockade on day one that delayed the games baton relay. Three demonstrators were also arrested and charged after chanting “no justice, no games” and trying to force their way into the opening ceremony.
These security incidents represent only a low-level risk though. Further demonstrations may occur in other areas of the Gold Coast or elsewhere in the region during the games but are unlikely to involve widespread violence or cause significant disruption due to the increased presence police presence in the region.
Beyond low-profile demonstrations, the CommonWealth Games still faces a potential terror threat, as a number of Islamic State-inspired plots have been disrupted since 2016, including planned improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and the bombing of an Emirates flight.
Australia’s participation in the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition has made the country a potential target for the group, including its affiliates in the South East Asia region and individuals returning from fighting with the group in Iraq and Syria. In turn, this makes the Commonwealth Games an attractive target for extremists. However, the substantial the security presence has so far mitigated the threat.
It is also reasonable to assume that intelligence agencies have proactively increased the monitoring of individuals of interest.
However, although low, the risk of low-technology, lone-wolf terrorist incidents such as stabbings and vehicular-ramming attacks is still present and always a challenge to mitigate if one were to arise.
Staying safe at a major sporting event
The challenge with major sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games or the upcoming FIFA World Cup, besides getting hold of tickets, is maintaining the safety of you and your travelling personnel.
Aside from ensuring all travellers are equipped with the right visas and travel documents before setting off, it is advisable to ensure a clear risk management programme is in place especially in more complex regions.
Even in relatively safe areas such as Australia, it is still best practice for travellers to stay abreast of developing stories by subscribing to local news alerts on phones, as well as pre-booking all necessary travel.
Fortunately, the Gold Coast games have so far been relatively risk-free, however this isn’t the case with every event. The upcoming Russia World Cup in June is one such event.
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