By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – As the Feb. 7 start date of the Winter Olympics draws closer, concerns about potential terrorist attacks targeting the event in Sochi, Russia, have not abated.
According to BBC, Whitehall officials (the British equivalent of White House officials) have called terrorist attacks before or during the Olympics “very likely.”
The circumstances leading up to the Olympics have provided plenty of fodder for concern. Threats from Islamic extremist groups, wanted posters in Sochi hotels of potential “black widow” suicide bombers, December suicide bombings in Volograd that killed dozens of people, Islamic insurgency and unrest in nearby regions – hardly the ingredients for a jovial Olympic atmosphere.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has guaranteed safety at Sochi, implementing a security force of more than 50,000 individuals. Putin’s so-called “Ring of Steel” around Sochi was sealed Jan.7. In addition running visitors through various security checkpoints, Russia will also be able to monitor all phone and Internet conversations taking place in the city thanks to recently implemented surveillance technology.
While NHL players have expressed excitement about the experience of representing their country and competing against the world’s best, the league has not ruled out the possibility of keeping its players stateside.
“As of now, we do not doubt that all necessary steps are being taken by the Sochi Organizing Committee, the Russian government and the IOC to ensure the safety of the athletes and guests in Sochi,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press. “Obviously, if something significant were to transpire between now and February 9 that causes us to question that conclusion, we will re-evaluate. I don’t expect that that will become necessary.”
Indeed, U.S. athletes even received memos cautioning them to maintain a low profile outside competitions.
“If you are an American Olympic athlete, you don’t want to advertise that far outside the Olympic venues,” a senior State Department official told CNN.
While many believe that the Olympic Games themselves should be safe because of the intensive security measures, experts worry about other, less secured gathering places – train stations, hotels and security check-in lines.
While few Olympians seem concerned about their own safety, a significant number have expressed concerns about their family members, with many deciding to leave their loved ones at home.
“They’re not gonna go. It’s not worth it,” Phoenix Coyote goalie Mike Smith told FOX Sports Arizona. “For myself, it’s about thinking if [my wife is] OK when I’m not with her. It’s unfortunate, but it’s just the way it is.”
Vancouver Canucks Robert Luongo and Daniel Sedin will also not bring their families, Fox News reported. Ryan Suter and Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild will not be bringing their supporters, listing security concerns as a factor, and speed skater Tucker Fredricks also asked his family to stay home so he would not have to worry about their safety.
According to Yahoo, Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins made similar calls.
The father of St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie put it this way:
“It’s getting to the point where our lives are on the line if we go there,” Tim Oshie told the New York Times. “They’re talking about terrorizing families. I’d rather stay in the homeland.”
Many are wondering if the NHL may feel the same way if the situation surrounding Sochi worsens.