By Doug Halberstadt
Thousands of the world’s greatest amateur and professional athletes have descended on the Russian city of Sochi for the XXII Winter Olympic Games. The opening ceremonies and first events are scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 6).
Tens of millions of people will be tuned in to watch the color and pageantry that traditionally accompanies the highly-choreographed, made-for-television event. For many casual observers, this is the only part of the Winter Games they will make a point to watch. The parade of countries and athletes usually adds the exclamation point to the ceremony.
This year, I’m uncertain whether these opening ceremonies will have the same joyous, lighthearted feeling as in years past. A dark cloud is plaguing this year’s Winter Games. The security issues have cast a huge shadow over the glow of the normally bright Olympic flame.
In addition to the threats made by Islamist Jihadist groups, recently another group calling itself Vilayat Dagestan have said they’ve been ordered by rebel leader Doku Umarov to strike against Sochi during the Olympics. Many countries, including Germany, Italy, Hungary and Great Britain, have received threats that their athletes would be “blown up” by terrorists at the Winter Games.
These threats are considered real, and both Russia and the United States have taken extraordinary measures to try to ensure the safety of the athletes and the spectators. More than 40,000 law enforcement officials are expected to be deployed during the event. The U.S. Pentagon has confirmed two ships and other assets are on alert in the nearby Black Sea.
It’s unfortunate such measures are necessary. There is no other event that is guaranteed to garner global media attention like this one will. There will be no larger stage for these extremist groups to present their message.
I’m afraid, that despite the best efforts of all involved, if there are people who have no respect for the lives of others and are willing to sacrifice their own, it’s indefensible. There is nothing anyone can do when a person is set on causing terror and mass destruction and is willing to die to make it happen.
I fear there will be more fireworks than the ones scheduled to take place during the opening ceremonies. We can only hope that our intelligence agencies and the security forces in place are able — and more importantly, capable — of preventing something tragically devastating from happening. That would be the gold medal performance of these games.
From the Feb. 5-11, 2014, issue