January 30th, 2014
04:03 PM ET

Sochi 2014: Will the Winter Olympics be safe?

In the last few weeks we've had suicide bombers in Volgograd killing more than 34 people, and Islamic militants promising a "present" to organizers and visitors to Sochi in February.

At least five Olympic committees have received letters in Russian making “a terrorist threat” before the Winter Games, and security forces are hunting a woman suspected of planning a suicide bombing who is believed to already be in Sochi.

For any journalist covering a major event like this, the experience should be about reporting mind-boggling feats of skill and endurance. But Sochi feels different and I’m sure many – be they athletes or journalists – will travel to the Black Sea resort with feelings of trepidation.

There's nothing like the buzz of actually being at major sporting events. I've been lucky enough to be at World Cups, European Championships, Olympics, Champions League finals and tennis grand slams, but never before have I got to the point I am now with the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

I'm not naive enough to think there haven't been threats against these kind of events before. I know there have – the South Africa World Cup in 2010 and the London 2012 Olympics for starters. And unlike a lot of journalists, I've been lucky enough to travel to Sochi twice in the buildup to the Games, and have received nothing but a warm – and safe – welcome.

But as we get ever closer to Sochi, and the threats continue, those feelings of trepidation just won’t go away.

The U.S. State department issued a travel alert earlier this month, calling the Games "an attractive target for terrorists." And the U.S. Olympic Committee has put an emergency exit strategy in place for its team and delegation in case of any incidents. The British also have security measures in place.

A number of athletes I've spoken to in the last couple of months aren't going to enjoy the party as they have at previous Games – instead they’re going to spend the shortest time they can in the region, going in and out of Sochi as close as possible to their events.

There is, of course, the school of thought that while these threats should be taken seriously, Sochi could well be the safest place on the planet in February, and that it's elsewhere in Russia that will feel the brunt of the threats.

The International Olympic Committee has said it’s confident the Games will be safe, and Russia has established an unprecedented “ring of steel” comprising members of the police, army and security forces. In total, the Ministry of Interior says it plans to deploy 37,000 security personnel, compared to 12,000 police and security for London 2012 (with 18,000 troops on standby) – an event that was significantly bigger.

I want to go to Sochi, throw myself into the Games and give my all to telling the fantastic story of the likes of the Jamaican bobsled team, of Shaun White’s latest tricks as he aims for a third Olympic gold, and the controversial Norwegian cross country skier Marit Bjorgen. My role is to travel around the city and the venues, and tell the stories that need to be told.

But sitting in the cable car heading up the mountain at the Rosa Khutor alpine resort, glancing at the range that leads to Chechnya; or when I'm standing in the crowd at the bottom of the ski jump area and see someone shifty-looking with a backpack; or as I go through another security check point to get on the new high-speed train line between the coastal zone and mountain resort ... at the moment it feels like it will be difficult to shake off the pervading sense of security that appears to be enveloping the Games.

President Putin has talked of the Winter Olympics as Sochi’s moment to shine. And I really hope it does. The Olympics is one of those rare and special events where the eyes of the world are watching. And with the controversial buildup to Sochi – with the anti-gay propaganda laws, human rights issues and escalating costs – you’d expect even more eyes than normal.

The problem is, as we’ve seen in the past – with the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Games, and the Centennial Olympic Park bombing at Atlanta 1996 – there are those who see it as an opportunity to get their voices heard.

Two years ago, despite all the security concerns, the London Games managed to create a remarkable atmosphere as fans flocked to its events. Let’s hope the same is true of Sochi.

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Filed under:  Olympics
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Jesper Wallin

    I'm hoping that CNN as a world renowned news provider will try and shed some light on the poor conditions for the guest workers who helped build the arenas and infrastructure in Sochi. Reports say that more than half of them have not been payed for their hard work, and many are being abused by corrupt police and scared to silence. All these rumors of corruption, abuse, and bribery, is just as scary as the risk of terror acts... The simple fact that the London Olympics cost approx 12.3 billion dollars, while the bill for Sochi is estimated to 47 billion dollars makes me wonder who the real winners and loosers are in these games... Obviously not the tax payers :) I'm sad to say I wont watch any of it. I don't want to support this.

    January 30, 2014 at 9:04 pm | Reply
    • Isaak

      I hope in China during Olympics ,workers got paid very good,and why you worry about russian workers.Enjoy sport .worry about human rights first in your own country

      February 6, 2014 at 11:44 pm | Reply
    • Isaak

      Mr.Jesper don't worry about russian tax payers.They pay 13 percent flat tax rate. What your rate mister?

      February 8, 2014 at 5:24 am | Reply
  2. Mimi c

    In addition to these working conditions are the terrible consequences of the construction – landfills hidden amidst supposedly preserved natural parks with filthy run off leading to the ocean... Plus hundreds of people who were displaced and their homes were destroyed because their land was on the future construction zone (and indemnities have yet to be paid). The French show: un petit journal, has a very informative segment on these issues.

    February 4, 2014 at 7:53 pm | Reply
    • Isaak

      Mimi c,Let you now Sochi from ocean 5000 miles ,look like you never see the map.Black sea not a ocean.Be there and you go to be surprise

      February 6, 2014 at 11:51 pm | Reply
  3. brighteyes

    ha! yeah. How about those spoiled athletes complaining about the conditions. ITS RUSSIA, NOT THE U.S.A. Everything is Russia sucks, so you shouldve thought twice about going to the Olympics, spoiled, SPOILED ahtletes.

    February 5, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Reply
    • VLADDY

      Have you even been to Russia ? Are you watching other than US medias? You'd discover many interesting, positive things in life. I've never heard so far from Olympians they would say about spoiled Games and alike. Are you aware that Olympians lived in future prison during winter Olympics in US??

      February 7, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  4. Reece

    Don't think Russia was as prepared as they could be

    February 6, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Reply
  5. Natalya

    What,s the matter with you, why all of you configured negatively? All of organizers and vualantery try to do their best for joining everyone these games. We really wait for foreign guests to show, that russian people good one, that we have open hearts.Olympics unite the world

    February 6, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Reply
  6. dalene44

    Sounds to me like the US media wants to play down the beauty and positive aspects of the games and focus on fear. All Olympics are potential targets but it appears Sochi is more a target for American journalists to smear. They're going their best so quit griping.

    February 7, 2014 at 2:02 am | Reply
  7. VLADDY

    Just wondering why US media most of the time just talking and talking negatively about Sochi Olympics? Most of the negative things have been made up. Wake up, it is sports and it is Olympics!
    p.s. many foreigners still believe that bears walking along the streets in Russian towns....

    February 7, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  8. DAN

    COME ON STOP BEING YANKIE PUSSIES BIG UP ,GIVE MR PUTIN A BLOODY CHANCE.THE SEC URITY WILL BER WAY OVER THE TOP ,,,,,BUT SAFE ..GIVE THEM A CHAN CE TO PROVE THIS

    February 7, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  9. southbaymatt

    We are always concerned with terrorism when there is an event of this magnitude;albeit the possibility is very much in the back of our minds;although their beliefs may differ from our's it's the honor and duty and rights of the athletes around the world to stand against those who wish to bring harm to the event that brings all of Humanity together not only for competition also to let those who wish harm to this Global event know that Love will always win.

    February 8, 2014 at 8:07 am | Reply
  10. hub

    Amanda, how much you paid for this anti-Russian article?

    February 8, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Reply
  11. Muscovite

    Guys, hi there!!! Your bloody journys are still somewhere in 1980s. It's crazy and same time it is fun for outer world to read their abnormal notes about Sochi. Hope you like sports as we do and you would read some other media sources about these Olimpics. Anyway we are proud with Sochi Olimpics and we really welcome all the guests over here (and we do not care whether you are homo or heterosexual).

    February 8, 2014 at 10:01 pm | Reply
  12. Lolnoobs

    I like how americans are talking about safety, whereas they cannot even maintain that in their own country

    February 10, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  13. Vxldemort

    "Lets go host the Olympic Games in a area where the terrorists can easily get to, it would be totes amazing for everyone's devices to get hacked"

    February 16, 2014 at 12:43 am | Reply
  14. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Summer Olympics, Winter Olympics, Para Olympics, World Athletics, World Cups are all celebrations of life filling us with joy, thrill and wonder.

    March 1, 2014 at 6:15 pm | Reply

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