As the twenty second Winter Olympic Games moves in to the first full week of competition, it appears that things are moving along very well, especially from a security perspective. This is not to say that things are going smoothly in Sochi but there have been no security breaches so far.
Opening ceremony on 7 February went off without a hitch although attendees were subjected to full body searches, which according to some rivaled a high school date night. There are reportedly 40,000 police in the area and security officials are also deploying plain clothes police, drones, sonar in the water, boats horse patrols and helicopters. Some believe that there may be as many as 100,000 security forces in place.
Islamic militants have stated repeatedly their intent to disrupt the Games and officials remain on high alert especially in “soft target” areas such as train stations and other public gathering places.
Most observers believe that the Olympic venues including the Olympic Village are hardened targets that will be difficult to penetrate. Athletes generally feel safe and are able to move about Sochi with no difficulties. American athletes have been encouraged not to wear any apparel that would identify them as Americans in order to help prevent any problems.
There is an emergency plan in place and there has been international collaboration and cooperation between countries. Airlines have been on high alert as reports of potential terrorist activity on the way to Russia. Russian security forces have killed five reported terrorists in nearby Dagestan.
On the ground in Sochi there are problems beyond security. Many hotels seem to be “unfinished” and inadequate. Toilets and door handles do not work. Food and water seem to be compromised by bad quality.
One of the bigger problems for the organizing committee and ultimately, Mr. Putin, is the anti or pro-gay protesters. Russia has been at the heart of the gay athlete controversy as homosexuality is not accepted in the Russian culture while many international athletes are openly gay.
Russia has also initiated an aggressive counter-terrorism campaign which has involved international cooperation between security and law enforcement agencies. These measures will be active through the Games as there is substantial potential for terrorism outside the Olympic venues. Much has been reported by the media that “black widow” suicide bombers are already inside Sochi. So far there has been no sign of the bombers but it is still early in the schedule of activities.
Security at the Olympic Games is always an issue. Witness the extraordinary security measures in Greece in 2004 and in Vancouver in 2010 and London in 2012. With the relatively small area in Sochi (the Winter Games are about one third the size of the Summer Games) and the inner and outer rings of security, it will be difficult to initiate a terrorist attack. Perhaps a more important issue is what will happen if there is a terrorist attack at the Games. Will the athletes be safe? Will spectators and corporate sponsors be evacuated safely and efficiently?
Time will tell but one thing is certain. People around the world are watching a lot more than the competition inside the elaborate venues.