One of the most anticipated events of 2014 will be the Winter Olympics, in particular for Americans who, like residents of the Berkshires, participate in and/or have an interest in winter sports. However, when the Olympic games begin in Sochi, Russia, on February 7, they will carry with them a sense of unease about the potential trouble that could emerge.
Russia undermined its games when it passed transparently homophobic laws that President Putin has said won’t be enforced against foreign athletes. We’ll see what happens if or when U.S. athletes engage in pro-gay demonstrations but these policies are hardly in keeping with the Olympic ideal. The possibility of terrorism has always been a concern, with the Black Sea resort of Sochi only about 200 miles away from Chechnya, where Islamic forces have long been fighting a guerilla war against Russia. Those concerns were heightened dramatically by this week’s suicide bombings in Volgograd, which is about 400 miles away from Sochi.
Security concerns at the Olympics, of course, are nothing new. The attacks in the Munich games of the 1972 by Palestinian terrorists that resulted in the deaths of 11 members of the Israeli delegation changed the Olympics forever, and the terrorist assault of September 11, 2001, resulted in enhanced security measures at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City that have been in place every two years since then. The choice of Sochi, however, because of its location in a volatile section of the world, brings a level of worry that was not reached in 2010 when the Winter games were held in Vancouver.
The 2012 Summer Olympics in London were preceded by terrorist bombings and surface-to-air missiles were placed on rooftops and fighter jets patrolled the skies during the games, which were happily free of incident. We saw last Patriots Day in Boston that no public event is immune from terrorism, and while canceling such events and retreating into our bunkers would lessen that threat, no one wants to live in such a fashion. America assumes its Russian hosts will be vigilant next month. The games go on -- to do less would be an admission of defeat.