Russia has placed 37,000 personnel on ‘combat alert’ for the event which will play host to thousands of competitors including five representing Ireland. Fears of Islamist militant action lingers with claims of ‘Black Widow’ female suicide bombers being hunted down and one Chechen leader calling for direct attacks on the event.
The city of Volgograd, 400 miles from Sochi, suffered two suicide bombings last month but Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committee, is confident the hosts have the situation under control.
“We are happy and confident of the Russian security system protecting the athletes. The International Olympic Committee are also of that viewpoint — not only for the Irish athletes, all athletes. We don’t expect any problems.”
The US government has made preparations to evacuate their citizens if the need arises after six terrorist threats — which Hickey described as fake — were sent to their Olympic committee and six others last week.
“The Americans have gone very extreme. I understand that they have some contingency ready with their Green Berets to pull everyone out. I didn’t yet go to the Irish Rangers to get ready to evacuate us because I don’t think there’s any need. I’ll be everywhere those athletes are and I’ll feel very safe and secure. So does our Chef De Mission, Stephen Martin.”
Security issues haven’t been the only cloud hovering over the Games. A law passed in Russia last year banning the promotion of ‘non-traditional’ sexuality to those under 18 has earned the ire of the gay rights movement.
The issue made more headlines this week when Sochi mayor Anatoly Pakhomov told the BBC there were no gay people living in the city but Hickey believes what he called the “homosexual problem” has been exaggerated.
“That has been wound up by politicians across the world to the nth degree. I was happy to hear (Tuesday) the President of the International Olympic Committee saying there would be no gagging of athletes.
“When they are interviewed, if they want to make any comment on that issue, they are free to do so. I think that’s very healthy. We’ve given no instructions to our athletes as we don’t need to. Don’t forget, most athletes are out there to compete, not to get involved in sideshows. So I think there will be protests out there, but the authorities will have to handle it on the day and we hope they handle it in a respectful way.”