Duncan Mackay
A friend emails from secure, sanitised SiALAN HUBBARD PLEASE USE THIS ONE(51)ngapore: "What the hell is happening over there? Will it be safe to come to the Olympics?"

A good question and one that unhesitatingly I would have answered in the affirmative this time last week.

But after the horrific events of the past few nights I am not so sure.

Who would have dreamed that when London won the Games in Singapore six years ago that just under a year out from the Opening Ceremony London 2012 would have disturbing echoes of Mexico City 1968 and Seoul 1988 when rioting was a similar prelude to the Olympics?

Of course there is every hope, indeed every chance, that all will be sweetness and light when the Games get under way but there can be no doubt that what has been occurring in the streets of tinder-box Tottenham, Clapham, Peckham, Brixton, Croydon and elsewhere in Greater London - not to mention Hackney, a javelin's throw from Olympic heartland itself - is a matter of deep embarrassment and concern.

Both for London's Olympic organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

London Riots: Worst Civil Unrest in Memory as City Gears Up for 2012 Olympics

The above is the banner headline from the Hollywood Reporter, one of scores which have swept across the United States this week. Similar scary reports of the riots created headlines, and editorial comment in  Australia, India, Jamaica, indeed, just about every county in the world sending athletes to the Games.

Especially France, where you can bet there were were smirks on the faces of quite a few Parisians.

And while at the IOC they were predictably trotting out the "we have every confidence it will be all right on the night" reassurances (after all, what else can they say?) you can bet there were some furrowed brows when they read the following observation from a former Metropolitan Police Commander, John O'Connor.

"This is just a glimpse into the abyss. Someone's pulled the clock back and you can look and see what's beneath the surface. And what with the Olympic Games coming this doesn't bode very well for London."

Of all the things that could happen in the run-up to 2012 (overspending, construction delays, transportation problems with bolshie union boss Bob Crow and his merry men yet to swing into action – or inaction), this unquestionably is the worst case scenario.

Hopefully London will get over it, as Mexico City did despite the despicable slaughtering of 300 demonstrating students in the Place of the Three Cultures. And as Seoul did when South Korea´s military leaders didn't take kindly to the community's reluctance to host the Games and brutally tear-gassed those protesting over the Government displacing 720,000 citizens to make way for Olympic visitors.

No-one is bracketing the London riots with those two shameful happenings (incidentally in both instances the Games themselves subsequently passed off without further major disturbances).

Yet the images that have gone around the world from London of burning buildings, widespread looting and vandalism, police charging in riot gear, mass arrests and now talk of the use of plastic bullets and water cannon, has tragically undermined the superb work of Lord Coe and his team in getting the city into decent shape for the Games.

Now that same city has been despoiled by criminality and a total disregard for law and order.

Ok, so I may be writing from the safe vantage point of a town in Surrey where the only likely riot would be if the local Waitrose was to run out of Sauvignon blanc, but perhaps the most worrying aspect of all this is the claim that London's police were undermanned and under-prepared for such an eventuality.

One wonders how, if a form of "terrorism" from within could not be contained, how they will manage should the real thing strike from the outside during the Olympics.

The one piece of good fortune is that this has happened a year, and not a week, from the Games.

At least there is the chance of obviously much-needed re-appraisal.

For the fervent prayer has to be that all that is burning in London next July will be the Olympic Flame.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.