January 28, 2014

Olympic spirit faces security threat in Sochi

Troops, evacuation planning bring an air of oppression.

Thanks to President Jimmy Carter, the last time Russia hosted the Olympics, the United States didn’t participate, depriving America’s finely honed athletes the one opportunity many of them would ever have to enjoy the thrill of taking part in the games.

Now as the Sochi Olympics loom, the descendants of those unfortunates may fervently wish they were going somewhere else to show off their winter skills, and that goes for their individual cheering sections as well.

The possibility of terrorist violence has forced loved ones and friends of U.S. team members to reassess their plans for traveling, a few at the suggestion of the participants themselves.

Whether the thousands of security personnel and frantic efforts to meet the logistical challenges of evacuation can beat back the threat swirling around the venues where thousands of the world’s finest will be put through their paces is problematic.

The atmosphere is hardly what these games symbolize — a place for peaceful and exuberant competition between friends and even enemies.

Instead, an air of oppression is what one can expect if he decides that all the media hype about potential tragedy is over the top.

If athletes can’t venture beyond the Olympic Village or venue in their colorful garb and must always be accompanied by teams of heavily armed guards, then what is the worth of all this?

Who’s to blame for this travesty? It’s none other than the International Olympic Committee, which is populated by mental midgets.

Choosing a site well known for its violence and in the middle of a virtual war zone is indisputable testimony to that.

Attending the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, a few years back, I quickly saw that the site was chosen for what it could bring to the table in terms of willingness to hock its future to build facilities that never again would be in great demand.

Those facilities were notoriously small in terms of seating capacity. Attendance by other than the Japanese was limited. The venues were a long drive from Nagano, which is hours away from Tokyo.

Along the way one could see hotels owned by a billionaire supporter of the IOC whose contribution to the games included a monument to the organization’s chairman. The hotels were full, of course.

Ironically, when the principals of the Salt Lake City site for the Winter Games showed that they understood what it took to win the IOC’s selection roulette, they not only had personal bad fortune but were accused of lacking the integrity for such an undertaking.

Mitt Romney came dashing to the rescue to straighten out things and to give his political aspirations a significant boost.

Vladimir Putin has promised that his troops can provide the security needed in Sochi. But again it is fair to ask at what cost both in respect to the image and economics of this enormous event.

U.S. taxpayers will foot the bill for a sizable security effort including military ships for the possible evacuation of 10,000 Americans.

Unfortunately, the condition of the world today demands security not needed in the past. The tragedy of Munich summer games and the slaughter of the Israeli team made that the case forever.

How foolish it was for the IOC to have gone looking for disaster.

Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. thomassondan@aol.com

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