Security at next month’s winter Olympics in Russia won’t interfere with visitors’ enjoyment of the Sochi games, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said today.
Concerns about safety at the event, which starts Feb. 7, have increased after two suicide bombings killed more than 30 people last month in the southern city of Volgograd, less than 700 kilometers (430 miles) from Sochi and about 430 kilometers from the border with the war-wracked region of Dagestan.
Russian forces are responding to almost daily attacks in the Caucasus by Muslim extremists since the two separatist wars that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Bach, a German elected IOC president last year, said Sochi’s situation will be similar to any major political conference, meeting or sporting event. He said the Olympics dealt with security worries during the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, which occurred several months after the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks on New York.
“Unfortunately, now this is at every big event,” Bach told reporters on a conference call. “You need high security. We know this situation: in Salt Lake City we had thousands and thousands of guards around the place. People felt well, and were pleased that their security was being taken care of.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who supported the spending of about $50 billion on preparing the city for the event, has deployed 40,000 police and special services officers in the area.
“I’m sleeping very well,” added Bach, who said IOC officials were consulting their Russian counterparts on security on a daily basis.
Bach said he’s confident that a Russian law passed last year banning “gay propoganda” won’t ruin the experiences of athletes or visitors. While he warned participants not to protest on the field of play or during the awarding of medals, he didn’t rule out athletes expressing their opinions.
“It is very clear that the games can’t be used as a stage for political demostrations, no matter how good the cause,” Bach told reporters. “It is also clear that athletes enjoy freedom of speech, and if they want to make a political statement at a press conference, they are absolutely free to do so.”
Editors: Jay Beberman, Michael Sillup. To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Elser in London at [email protected] To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jay Beberman at [email protected]