London 2012: Male Athletes Fly First Class, Heathrow Strike, Libya Olympic President Kidnapped

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Today the Olympic torch arrived in London, and in a few hours, so will The World's Alex Gallafent. Alex will be keeping us up to date on all things Olympics in the weeks to come. Alex, there have been lots of Olympic-related news stories this week. Let's start with a kind of disturbing story out of Libya, the kidnapping of the Libyan Olympic Committee President. What happened?

Alex Gallafent: We heard about this on Monday. It was something that happened the night before on Sunday. The president of Libya's Olympic committee abducted in the streets of Tripoli by gunman. His name is Nabi al-Alam, and his car apparently was stopped in the street and he was bundled into a different car and hasn't been seen since.

Werman: And why would this man have been targeted?

Gallafent: There's been no word from the people who took him, at ;least nothing that;s veen made public yet. But there's a theory that he may have been kidnapped by people loyal to the former Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. There's been a fair amount of score-settling since the eight month civil war that led to his death October.

Werman: Is there any Olympic connection?

Gallafent: Again, it's not clear. but another theory is that if indeed Nabil al-Alam was taken by people loyal to the memory of Gaddafi and to the memory of his Libya, then they might be trying to pressurize Olympic athletes in some way, Libya's sending five athletes to the games in London. And at the moment, it's expected that they'll be displaying Libya's red, black, and green tri-color flag. This is the flag that was adopted by the current transitional government. But Nabil al-Alam's colleagues think that the kidnappers don't want that to happen. Presumably, they want the old Libyan flag, the flag of Gaddafi, to fly. But the head of the Libyan delegation has said they won't be cowed, the new flag will indeed fly in London.

Werman: Next up, Alex—I saw this headline yesterday and I went, "you've got to be kidding." A strike by border officials in the UK just before the games begin? Really?

Gallafent: Uh, yeah. Really. Not kidding. And the theme, Marco, for the rest of our chat is "outrage!" Outrage. [laughter] Thousands of union members in the UK have voted to strike for 24 hours next Thursday, that's just before the games begin. It's related to layoffs and pay freezes, things that will be familiar to many people hear in the US. Unfortunately the union in question represents workers who do thinks like oh, you know, check your passports at British airports.

Werman: So what's been the reaction from the British government?

Gallafent: Well, the British Home Secretary, she's the lawmaker responsible for border security, has called the action shameful. And she and her colleagues have also been trying to discredit the strike, pointing to a very low turnout. Only 20% of union members came out to cast a ballot. And they're appealing to people's patriotism. Saying this is kind of not on ahead of the games.

Werman: One of the big challenges of the London Olympics will be the security. How are the union leaders defending this?

Gallafent: Well, they're saying this is just the government whipping up hysteria. There's going to be no disruption to the Olympics, this is 24 hours, it's before the Olympics actually takes place. But if you're stuck in a line a Heathrow and you're not confident that you're going to get through the line any time soon you might feel differently about it.

Werman: Right. Now finally, we've got this last Olympic sidebar story., It seems like it comes from the 1950s.

Gallafent: Yeah, it actually reminded me of a British sketch group that would do these sort of old-fashioned public service announcements with a tagline "Women: know your place!" And this is a story about male athletes flying first class and female athletes flying coach class. This is what's happened with some athletes, not all of them, but some from Japan and Australia when they flew to Europe and to London specifically o their way to the games. Japan's world-champion women's soccer team had to fly in the back of the plane, but the men's team, the under 23 men's team, was up at the front in business class.

Werman: All right, how did they explain that?

Gallafent: Japan's soccer authorities said the men flew in business class because they are professionals. So there you go.

Werman: That sounds kind of like equivocation. What about the Australians?

Gallafent: This was the basketball team for Australia. The men flew in business class and the women sat in "premium" economy. So not quite coach, but still a step down from the guys. A former Australian women's basketball captain has said that this stuff has been going on for yeas. So, uh, they better sort it out. Especially, as you said, since the women have been much more successful at the sport.

Werman: But you, Alex, you will be flying to London tonight to the Olympics and you won't complain about sitting in coach, will you?

Gallafent: I won't complain about sitting in coach, and I will take a very, very long book to Heathrow just in case,

Werman: Have a great time, Alex, and thanks a lot.

Gallafent: Thanks, Marco.