Will Sochi’s Security be a Tipping Point?

The new IOC president, Thomas Bach, made a bold statement today: “We have full confidence in the Russian authorities.” He was referring of course to the security risks, and issues, surrounding the soon-to-begin Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

From people protesting about Russia’s anti-gay laws to religious fundamentalists – this major event, like any other, is a ripe target for attacks.

Thomas Bach went on to say: “Security is the responsibility of the host country and we know the Russian services are working closely with different international services to ensure that participants and spectators in the Games feel safe and secure.”

Now that’s a statement that clearly says two things…

1. If anything goes wrong, it’s Russia not the IOC that let it go wrong, and,

2. It’s safe, you’re free to come and watch, please come and watch . . . but, again – if anything does go wrong, and if it ends up not being safe, it’s Russia’s responsibility.

Should we be concerned? Of course. Should people avoid the event? Of course not.

On one hand there is only so much the IOC can do – any massive security operation is only going to be possible with state support. On the other hand though individuals need to make their own assessments just as the organisers do.

Implying that there won’t be an attack is a bit like guaranteeing it definitely won’t rain. The only way to avoid the rain is to not go outside. The only way to truly avoid a terrorist attack happening at a major event is to either not stage or not go to a major event.

A security incident is the last thing anyone wants – clearly. It would be horrendous. However, just as there are likely a whole host of threats and dangers around us in real, normal life, with the emergency services and military protecting us day in day out, a major event should be seen as no different. Risks are assessed and measures put in place to mitigate them.

Of course, if the balance is wrong and a major event becomes more of a weaponry exhibition with some sport on the side, than a sports event with some armed security in key locations and observing discreetly, it’s at this point that one should start questioning the merits of staging the event in the first place.

This is a criticism that’s been levelled at Sochi, though the IOC have defended the decision to award the Winter Olympics to Sochi. Russia’s solution to avoid a weaponry exhibition at the venues, appears to be a ring of steel around the main locations – avoiding the need for as much security in the venues. Clever? Yes. Over the top – perhaps, but if it works it works.

If I’m going to assess the risk myself and decide to go to a major event, I’d like to know those responsible for the event have done the same.

There will come a time in the future though, probably the not too distant future, when the structure or format of these major events needs to be reassessed. This time will come when the security of a major event is not possible within reasonable practical and financial constraints. The question that needs asking though is whether this will happen as a result of the IOC’s initiative, the body ultimately overseeing the largest event on the planet, or as the result of something unthinkable happening?

Maybe Sochi’s security effort will be the tipping point that makes sure this question both gets asked and then answered in good, and safe, time?