Russia Seeks To Soothe Security Concerns On Eve Of Sochi Winter Olympics
Russia said on Thursday that its Sochi Olympics "were as safe as any place in the West from militant attacks after Washington warned airports and some airlines that toothpaste tubes could be used to smuggle bomb-making materials onto a Russia-bound plane," according to Mike Collet-White of REUTERS. Russian forces "are on high alert over threats by Islamist militant groups based in the nearby north Caucasus to attack the Winter games, which begin on Friday." Twin suicide bombings "killed at least 34 people in December in Volgograd." Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak, speaking on the eve of the Opening Ceremony, told journalists that "Russian security services were working with colleagues from Europe and North America." Kozak: "There is no reason to believe that the level of danger in Sochi is greater than at any other point on the planet, be it Boston, London, New York or Washington. We can guarantee the safety of people as well as any other government hosting any mass event." U.S. President Barack Obama has said that he believed Sochi was safe," but behind the scenes there has been tension between Russian and U.S. officials, including over concerns that the host nation might react with excessive force in the case of an attack and endanger civilian lives" (REUTERS, 2/6). REUTERS' Keith Weir reported British Olympic Association Chair Sebastian Coe said that "Olympic boycotts are absurd and serve no political purpose," while reflecting on the Cold War era when he won his two Gold Medals. Coe said that "such protests were futile and hurt athletes." Coe: "They are absurd. They fly in the face of any sensible political judgment. Certainly at an Olympic level they have never remotely achieved what they set out to do other than to penalize the competitor" (REUTERS, 2/6).
RIO PRESSURE: REUTERS' Karolos Grohmann wrote pressure on the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics "continued to mount" when the IOC said on Thursday that "the city had no more time to waste and needed to win over the hearts of the Brazilian people." Rio organizers have yet to start construction on their second Olympic park in Deodoro while IOC VP & Coordination Commission Head Nawal El Moutawakel said that "there were still outstanding issues related to government support." Moutawakel: "Significant and tangible progress has been made. But constant supervision and assistance will be required over the coming months" (REUTERS, 2/6).
OLYMPIC TRUCE: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed the IOC session in advance of the Sochi Games. Ban renewed his call for all the warring parties worldwide to observe the Olympic Truce and "to lay down their weapons during the Games -- and to lift their sights to the promise of peace" (IOC).
FOR ALL AGES: REUTERS reported FIFA President Sepp Blatter wants the IOC to scrap its age limits for members, saying that "they should be voted out only if they are incapable of performing their duties." The 77-year-old Blatter, who has been an ex-officio IOC member since '99 following his election to the FIFA presidency a year earlier, "has yet to decide whether he will run for another term" (REUTERS, 2/6).