One key aspect of the Olympics is that it brings together people from all around the globe and London 2012 will be no different as thousands of athletes, officials and fans from over 200 countries are expected to descend on the capital this summer.
This mass movement of people raises a number of challenges for the UK authorities. One of the most obvious difficulties of organising such an event is the complications that it poses for the country’s immigration authorities.
Many of those coming from abroad will require a visa to enter Britain. With the UK’s strict immigration laws, such a large group of diverse people coming to Britain could create a potential flash point which has potential to disrupt the Games.
Let us think about some of the questions immigration officials will be currently considering.
Imagine the scenario where athletes or even entire teams are denied entry to the UK on the basis that the authorities do not believe that they will leave when the Olympics end. Or what about key members of a foreign team being denied entry to the UK (and therefore not permitted to participate in the Games) because they have extremist views or a criminal conviction?
Where should the balance lie? Is it with Britain maintaining firm immigration controls or is it with us opening our doors and embracing the opportunities the Olympics bring? And how would the public react if the wrong decision is made? Would there be a public outcry if we started denying entry to participants? Or would there be an outcry if we started allowing athletes in knowing full well that they will not leave once the Games end?
These are just a few of the issues which could arise as athletes and their families start to arrive in Britain along so many other people connected with the Games.
The potential problems do not end when the athletes pass through immigration. What if war or civil unrest breaks out in an athlete’s home country? Would it be legal to force them to go home? Or what happens if Britain declares war on one of the countries participating? What would happen to the ‘enemy’ athletes that are in Britain? Or what if entire teams start claiming asylum (as they are legally entitled to do) based on their fear of persecution in their home country?
The unenviable task of policing the system during the 2012 Olympics falls to the UK Border Agency. Some of these scenarios are inevitable. Immigration problems are a by-product of any international sporting event and it is important that the issues are dealt with in a sensitive manner. The alternative is that we are left with an international diplomatic incident or with only the Great British teams participating at London 2012. At least with the latter, we will be guaranteed to win some gold medals!