IOC leader backs Sochi security measures, says he's 'sleeping very well' despite threats
Monday, Jan 27, 2014 09:30 am
LONDON - IOC President Thomas Bach defended the choice of Sochi as host of the Winter Olympics on Monday and said he's "sleeping very well" despite the terror threat hanging over the games.
Bach reiterated his confidence that Russia will provide "safe and secure" games without taking away from a festive Olympic atmosphere.
Russia is mounting a massive security operation for the games, which open Feb. 7 amid threats of attacks from Muslim insurgents from the North Caucasus region.
"We have full confidence in the host country and we also know that Russia and the Russian (security) services are working closely with different international services in order to ensure that all the participants and spectators in the games can feel safe and secure," Bach said in a conference call with reporters.
On a separate issue, Bach repeated that Russia has promised that athletes and spectators will not face any discrimination based on sexual orientation. Russia enacted a law last year banning gay "propaganda" among minors.
Bach said athletes are free to speak out on any political issues at news conferences at the games, but are prohibited from doing so on the medal podium or other Olympic sites.
"It's very clear that the games cannot be used as a stage for political demonstrations," he said. "The IOC will take, if necessary, individual decisions based on the individual case. On the other hand, the athletes, of course, enjoy the freedom of speech. So, if in a press conference they want to make a political statement, then they are absolutely free to do so."
More than 50,000 police and military personnel are being deployed to guard Russia's first Winter Games. An Islamic militant group in Dagestan claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings that killed 34 people in late December in Volgograd and threatened to attack the games in Sochi.
Russian security officials have been hunting for three potential female suicide bombers, one of whom is believed to be in Sochi itself.
Bach said the International Olympic Committee remains in constant contact with Russia about the security measures.
Asked whether he's worried, he said, "I'm sorry to tell you I'm sleeping very well."
"I'm really looking forward to the first Winter Games under my presidency and I'm very confident they will be successful," said the German, who was elected head of the IOC in September, succeeding Jacques Rogge after 12 years in office.
Bach compared the security situation to that of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the U.S.
"In Salt Lake City there were thousands of security people around the place and people still felt fine and appreciated seeing that security was being taken seriously," he said. "I think the security forces can operate in a way that doesn't affect the atmosphere."
Bach also defended Russia's massive spending on the games. The $51 billion price tag — which includes the cost of roads, railways, hotels and other projects — is a record for any Olympics.
Bach said Russia was using the Olympics as a "catalyst" to transform the region and create a winter sports complex for the entire country. It's up to host nations, he said, to decide how — and how much — they invest in long-term infrastructure projects.
The spending on the Sochi Olympics has been engulfed in claims of kickbacks and other corruption. On Monday, anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny claimed that Russia spent twice as much as necessary to build at least 10 of the Olympic venues.
Bach said the IOC stands "against any form of corruption," adding that he hopes people can differentiate "between just a general claim and concrete information."
In general, Bach said, the Olympic atmosphere is building up in Sochi as the games approach. Referring to concerns about warm weather in the subtropical area, he said there was "plenty of snow" and more was forecast for later in the week.
"I think overall we can say Sochi is ready to welcome the best winter athletes of the world," Bach said.