LONDON – An appearance by the hapless comic character Mr. Bean was one of the highlights of the London Olympics opening ceremony. Yet a series of Keystone Cops moments has games organizers hoping they don’t keep up this slapstick routine in real life.
London police acknowledged Monday that last week they lost a set of keys to Wembley – one of the most famous soccer stadiums in the world and an Olympic venue in London – and had been forced to hastily change the stadium locks.
It was the latest unintentionally comic moment to beset the games and has raised fears of what else may be in store.
News of the lock debacle followed a diplomatic tiff with India, triggered when a woman who was not part of the country’s athletic delegation marched right beside India’s flag bearer at Friday’s opening ceremony.
Olympic officials insisted there was no security risk from either incident. Games chief Sebastian Coe said the Indian team’s interloper was an accredited cast member from the opening ceremony who “got slightly over-excited.”
Police said the Wembley keys appeared to have been lost rather than stolen and “measures were taken immediately to secure all key areas of the venue.”
Earlier Olympic glitches ranged from worrying to merely embarrassing.
Security arrangements were thrown into chaos weeks before the opening ceremony when private security contractor G4S acknowledged it would not be able to provide all the guards it had promised. Thousands of soldiers, sailors and air force personnel – some just back from Afghanistan – had to be drafted in to plug the Olympic security gaps.
Then last week, as the Olympic soccer competition kicked off, organizers mistakenly displayed the South Korean flag on a jumbo screen while introducing the North Korean women’s team. There could hardly have been a worse mix-up – the two countries are still technically at war.
Britons, at least, are quick to see the humor. Opticians Specsavers ran a full-page ad displaying the two completely different-looking Korean flags and suggesting that anyone who can’t tell the difference should stop by for a checkup.
Then Welsh footballer Joe Allen was listed as English in the British team’s official program, prompting a wave of mocking commentary across Twitter.
Over the weekend, television shots of so many empty seats at Olympic venues enraged many ordinary Britons, who had struggled for months to get tickets, many unsuccessfully.
Organizers are now scrambling to fill rows of empty seats allocated but not used by members of the “Olympic family” – national federations, sponsors and the media. Among the remedies: 150 British soldiers were told to stop handling security duties for a few hours Sunday and go watch the Olympic qualifying for women’s gymnastics.
“I was told to let the boys come in and enjoy the show,” Staff Sgt. Marc Robson of the 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery told The Associated Press. “Look at them, they seem to be liking it just fine.”
Ellis Cashmore, professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University, said the sheer number of Olympic errors has had a numbing effect.
“It’s almost as if we’ve become anesthetized to them,” he said. “It’s almost as if we’re expecting another gaffe.
“If everything had gone smoothly up till now, (the missing keys) would be a catastrophe. Losing they keys to the stadium! If you lose your house keys, it’s a major crisis.”
The farcical moments started more than a year before the games, when the official Olympic countdown clock was unveiled in London’s Trafalgar Square – and promptly broke down.
On Friday, during a mass celebratory bell-ringing to mark the start of the games, Olympics Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s bell went flying off its handle and narrowly avoided a bystander. No one was hurt, but the incident, captured by a TV camera, drew comparisons to Mr. Bean, the accident-prone Englishman created by comedian Rowan Atkinson.
It’s fortunate that the British have knack for laughing at their mistakes. That talent for self-deprecation helps explain the popularity of London Mayor Boris Johnson – a brainy but gaffe-prone politician once forced to apologized to the entire city of Liverpool after accusing its residents of “wallowing” in victimhood.
Putting a positive spin on things, Johnson listed Hunt’s bell-ringing clanger as one of the reasons to be cheerful about the Olympics.
“Jeremy Hunt has introduced a new sport to the games, to go with the discus, shot-put, javelin,” Johnson wrote in Monday’s Daily Telegraph. “It is bell-whanging. ... The rules have yet to be codified – there is still a dispute about whether you get extra points for hitting a spectator – but you can be sure they will be codified in London.”
In this new age of social media – and with the eyes of the world on London – more blunders are inevitable, Cashmore said.
“I think previous Olympics have been just as marred by security lapses, but now we are so acutely aware of everything that these things are magnified,” he said. “We are looking at things microscopically now.”
Jenna Fryer contributed.
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless