The first Winter Olympics held in Russia begin today. After the next 16 days of competition, Olympic victory for the Russian Federation and President Vladimir Putin will be a games free of a terrorist attack, local experts say.
“Unfortunately, I would say that the odds are probably even that something will happen in Russia to embarrass the Russian government,” said Donna Schlagheck, professor and chair of the Political Science Department at Wright State University. “It will most likely hurt more Russians than it will international athletes.”
Glen Duerr, assistant professor of International Studies at Cedarville University, agreed that athletes in Sochi may not be the main target of any planned attack.
“When people are actually in the Olympic areas, in Sochi and in the mountains, I think you’ll be very secure. I don’t anticipate an attack. But given the amount of chatter, there’s at least the potential for the targeting of a soft target like some kind of transportation mode, whether that’s train or bus,” Duerr said. “And that it will hit tourists and civilians.”
Schlagheck, who’s written extensively about international terrorism, said the games provide a large, visible stage for terrorist groups hoping to embarrass the Russian president. It’s estimated up to two-thirds of the entire global population watches some part of the Olympic Games on television.
“It’s a huge, huge platform. No matter how many troops the Russians put in the Sochi ‘ring of steel’ you know what the math is. It takes one successful terrorist, particularly given the enormous stage on which these games are operating.”
Duerr said the Russians have increased security to not only protect people, but the $51 billion in new infrastructure around Sochi.
“If we make a comparison with the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, which was just a few months after 9/11 there were 13,000 security personnel. In Sochi, they have 40,000,” Duerr said.
Duerr said the main terrorist threat to Russia is increasingly centered in the Dagestan Republic.
“It’s become much less volatile in Chechnya but what we have seen is an increase in volatility in Dagestan in particular. And that’s where these different groups have set up a base,” Duerr said.
Terrorist concerns and stories of construction delays have kept many Americans at home. It’s reported the fewest number of Americans in 20 years are traveling to this Winter Olympics.
People can stay at home and watch the action on television but the athletes have to go.
Dr. Pat Prikkel is a local chiropractor who has worked with American bobsled and skeleton athletes before they left for Russia.
“Most people want to know about the security concerns. I’m not there, but I know how serious Team USA is with their preparations for this,” said Prikkel, who lives in Butler Twp. and practices in Oakwood. “Being involved with the team the last four years, they’ve been planning security and medical for the last two and a half years. We’ve got the best security people in the world and they’re all together.”
Prikkel, who specializes in sports medicine and performance, is an alternate on the medical team. He’s fully credentialed and could be called at any time to replace another chiropractor. He volunteered for the Olympic Training Center’s medical program in 2009 and most recently worked with the bobsled and skeleton athletes at the Olympic trials in Park City, Utah.
“I think the athletes are going to be safe. The Russians will do the best job they can. You hope the spectators and everyone is safe. At the end of the day these are just young people. It’s sport. It unifies us all and shouldn’t be political,” Prikkel said.
Duerr and Schlagheck said time will tell if Sochi was a good selection to host an Olympics.
“It’s deeply political in how these sites are selected. Vladimir Putin basically pledged that he was going to spend billions of dollars—he did—$51 billion on the Winter Olympics,” Duerr said. “It depends how this goes. I think if Sochi goes very well, there’s no real incident, we come out at the end of February and say that was a really fantastic Winter Olympics, then I think there’s less pause on the part of IOC members.”
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