POSTED: January 23rd 2014

JOHN GOODBODY: Threat of terrorism at the Winter Olympics highest since 1972

Sochi will have unprecedented security in the surrounding zones
Sochi will have unprecedented security in the surrounding zones

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications               

(SFC) Ever since the ‘Black September’ terrorists attacked the Olympic Village in Munich in 1972, there has always been the worry that the Games, which attracts the international media in such huge numbers, would once again be the target of violence. Apart from the bomb explosion at the Centennial  Olympic  Park in 1996, which directly killed one person and injured 111, this fear has not been realised.

However, as Sochi prepares to welcome the world for the Winter Games, there is no question that the terrorism threat is the highest since 1972. Islamic extremists have released a video taking responsibility for the two suicide bombings in Volgograd in December, which killed 34 people.

The video, believed to feature the two men who carried out those attacks, also warns Valdimir Putin that the Winter Games, on which the Russian President has spent so much money, will be a target. It says:”If you hold these Olympics, we will give you a present for the innocent Muslim blood being spilt around the world –in Afghanistan, in Somalia, in Syria. For the tourists, who come, there will be a present too.”

Unprecedented security is being put in place by Russia to ensure that the Games can go ahead peacefully. In addition, the United States said this week that two ships would be on hand in the Black Sea to help the Russians should they be needed. The Pentagon announced that the US military was “conducting prudent planning and preparations” should American support be required during the Games.

There is a widespread belief that terrorists are unlikely to target the Olympics because the security is so tight. However, this is only true of the actual Games venues, the Olympic Village and the leading hotels, where most of the officials and tourists will be staying. In these places, there will be extensive searches of people’s bodies and bags.

There is relatively little that the Russians can do to stop a homegrown suicide bomber exploding a device in the margins of the Games, say, in the smaller hotels or in the surrounding areas of Sochi. This would have the effect of damaging the global reputation of the Games but without actually directly targeting the Olympics themselves when the risk of interception by the security forces would be much greater. In the Atlanta Games, the Centennial Park was not actually part of the Olympic security system, although many people believed that it was because it was so close to the venues.

I was struck during the London Games how tight the security was in the Olympic Park and at other venues but also the contrast with the moment that you stepped outside the ‘bubble’. For instance, there was no security on entering the Javelin train which took so many spectators at high speed from St. Pancras station to the Olympic Park. Anyone could easily have placed a bomb on that train with horrendous effects.

The London Games then would not have been remembered as perhaps the greatest and most joyous Summer Games ever but rather for the terrorist outrage.

Sebastian Coe has admitted to a sigh of relief when the wheels of the plane taking the last visiting team took off from London in 2012. Russian officials, led by President Putin, will utter an even greater sigh of relief at the end of the Sochi Olympics –provided that everything has gone as smoothly and safely as one hopes.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · John Goodbody · Sochi 2014 · Munich 1972

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