Montreal Gazette

Boston bombings heighten security fears

Olympic officials ‘very concerned’

- STEPHEN WILSON

LONDON — From London to Sochi to Rio de Janeiro, the deadly bomb attacks on the Boston Marathon raised new concerns Tuesday about safety at major sports events around the world, including the Olympics and World Cup.

The twin bombings near the marathon finish line that killed three people and injured more than 170 people brought into sharp focus the security challenges facing next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.

“We are very, very concerned,” senior IOC member Gerhard Heiberg of Norway told The Associated Press. “Security is priority No. 1, no question about it.”

More immediate is the security planning for this weekend’s London Marathon, which attracts more than 30,000 runners and half a million spectators. Organizers said they were reviewing security for Sunday’s race — one of the world’s six major marathons — but the event will go ahead as scheduled in a display of unity with Boston.

“The best way for us to react is to push ahead with the marathon on Sunday, to get people on the streets and to celebrate it as we always do in London,” British Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said. “We are absolutely con- fident here that we can keep the event safe and secure ... The best way to show solidarity with Boston is to continue and send a very clear message to those responsibl­e.”

The London Marathon, which takes in some of the city’s most recognizab­le landmarks, draws many of the world’s top marathoner­s as well as tens of thousands of amateur and “fun” runners who raise money for charity. Prince Harry, patron of the marathon’s charitable trust, is scheduled to attend Sunday’s race and make the presentati­ons to the winners.

“When you have an event of any nature — a marathon, parade — it’s only as safe as the city itself,” race chief executive Nick Bitel said. “If it’s not held in a stadium, you can’t do a lockdown like you may do in a building.”

Also taking place Sunday is the Bahrain Grand Prix, a Formula One race that faces its own security issues after a series of explosions, including a gas cylinder blast that set a car ablaze in the Gulf nation’s financial district.

A Human Rights Watch report alleged that Bahrain authoritie­s rounded up activists living around the track in a bid to “silence” dissent ahead of the race. Protesters, carrying portraits of people killed in the nation’s nearly threeyear uprising, are calling for a boycott of the race.

Security for the Olympics, meanwhile, has been paramount ever since the attacks by Palestinia­n gunmen that killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Munich Games.

The focus now falls on Sochi, a Black Sea resort that will host Russia’s first Winter Olympics next February. Security was already a concern because of Sochi’s proximity to an Islamic insurgency that spread across southern Russia after separatist wars in Chechnya.

“Naturally, we’re beefing up security measures,” Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said in remarks carried by the R-Sport news agency.

IOC vice-president Thomas Bach, who was on his way to Sochi Tuesday for an internatio­nal journalist­s’ conference, said the attacks in Boston reinforced the IOC’s policy that safety is paramount for any Olympics.

“I’m sure that this malicious attack will lead public authoritie­s to have another look at all security measures,” Bach said.

“While it is too early to draw any final conclusion­s, we have full confidence in the Russian authoritie­s. They have already analyzed the overall situation and I’m sure they will take this event into account and take the necessary measures.”

Heiberg, who organized the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehamme­r, Norway, and now chairs the IOC’s marketing commission, said security concerns had been heightened since the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks in the United States. Since then, Olympics have passed off peacefully in Salt Lake City, Athens, Turin, Beijing, Vancouver and London.

“So far, we have been lucky in the Olympics but what happened in Boston reminds us that we cannot take it easy. We have to continue and we have to plan for not only the possible but also the impossible,” Heiberg said. “We are taking it extremely seriously in Sochi, working very hard with the Russian authoritie­s.”

The Russian Interior Ministry said Tuesday it has fully deployed the police force that will be in place during the Sochi Olympics and has conducted regular checks of all venues to make sure they are protected.

Alexander Konovalov, head of the Institute of Strategic Assessment and Analysis, an independen­t think-tank, said internatio­nal terror groups could be encouraged by the carnage in Boston to plot against the Sochi Olympics.

“The terrorists’ strategy is to create a sense of panic and leave an impression that they can strike any target, no matter how tightly it’s protected,” Konovalov said. “The Olympics would make a highly desirable goal for terrorists, offering the maximum publicity.”

Russia is also hosting one of the biggest internatio­nal sports events of 2013 — the world track and field championsh­ips in Moscow on Aug. 10-18.

“Our security measures are tough as they are,” said Mikhail Butov, secretary general of the Russian Athletics Federation. “But when it’s clear what actually happened (in Boston), we will draw our conclusion­s.”

Guarding the Olympics is a massive operation covering 17 days of competitio­n in numerous outdoor and indoor venues. Not only are sports facilities at risk, but so are the public areas where fans and spectators congregate.

“The balance is not easy,” Heiberg said. “Of course, you can provide security but we don’t want to show the world pictures of soldiers and police with guns and so on.”

 ?? JAE C. HONG/ THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? A police officer is silhouette­d as he looks on before a baseball game in Los Angeles on Monday. Security concerns are heightened.
JAE C. HONG/ THE ASSOCIATED PRESS A police officer is silhouette­d as he looks on before a baseball game in Los Angeles on Monday. Security concerns are heightened.

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