Vying for the ‘Gold’ Standard in Security at Olympics

January 31, 2014

For the athletes entering the Winter Olympics, it’s about the games. For the host city of Sochi, Russia, it’s also an exercise in homeland security. From Feb. 7 to the 23rd, the world will be watching as thousands of athletes from more than 80 countries showcase their skills and extraordinary talents in a competition among the world’s best athletes. Right now, days before the Olympics commence, the Russians have been ramping up their security in Sochi with more than 50,000 police, army and security officers.

This year’s Winter Games are witnessing heightened concerns about possible security threats due to Sochi’s proximity to the North Caucus region, where militant groups reside. The al-Qaeda affiliated Caucasus Emirate already issued a video message to Russian President Vladmir Putin promising attacks on Sochi. For its part, the U.S. plans to deploy two Navy warships to the Black Sea, and its military bases in the area are on high alert to evacuate Americans in case of a terrorist attack. Unfortunately, information sharing between Russia and the international community regarding security has been scarce.

“Safety and security of everyone attending the Winter Olympics is being put at further unnecessary risk because of the reciprocal distrust between Russian and U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence agencies,” national security expert Micah Zenko stated. After two suicide bombings in the southern Russian city of Volgograd last month, the White House expressed “concern” about an uptick in reported threats by violent extremists.

Along with the fear of attacks during the Olympic Games is the serious concern that petty international relations could potentially get in the way of information sharing of security for a global event. With low ticket sales to the Winter Olympics in Sochi comes low confidence that Putin will reach out to his international partners to keep the world abreast of security efforts. In the end, what holds more weight in gold: security or pride?

Another concern with the hyper-security games in Sochi is the demonization of a whole community in the caucuses. In the recent months, a black widow, the label given to female suicide bombers and widows of insurgents from Chechnya, attacked a bus in Volgograd, killing herself and seven others. According to Dr. Francine Banner, the psychological ramifications of continuing to label the Chechen insurgent women as black widows “obscures their motivations,” and “the experiences of actual Chechen people are made invisible.”

It is important that we do not allow authoritarian regimes that have had a less than stellar record in human rights use the Olympic Games as a way to push a geo-political agenda. The Olympic games is a stage where the world’s most talented come to engage in healthy competition and understand each other, and we should ensure that it is not politicized. We pray for the safety of all the athletes and people of the region. 

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