The Associated Press - Monday Dec. 30, 2013 10:06 ET

Canadian Olympic Committee says safety of athletes paramount

Thomas Bach expresses condolences for Volgograd victims

russian-bombing-gettyimages459748037
Russian policemen guard the site of a deadly bombing on a packed trolleybus in Volgograd, Russia Monday. The bombing was caused by a male suicide bomber, according to investigators. (Stringer/Getty Images)

 

Ensuring the safety of the entire Canadian team heading to Sochi remains the biggest priority, the Canadian Olympic Committee said Monday after two deadly suicide bombings in southern Russia occurred within the last 24 hours.

More than 30 people were killed in the explosions, putting the city of one million on edge and highlighting the threat Russia is facing as it prepares to host February's Olympic Games in Sochi.

"The safety of our entire Canadian Olympic Team including our athletes, coaches, support staff and volunteers is always our main priority," the statement read.

"The Canadian Olympic Committee works very closely with the RCMP, Sochi and Russian security agencies, medical and government partners in the months and years leading up to the Games to ensure the entire team remains safe throughout the Games.

"The COC strives to ensure that athletes feel safe and secure at all times so 100 per cent of their attention is focused on their sport and achieving podium success."

Kristina Groves has dealt with heavy Olympic security and the concern about attacks before.

The Olympic champion speed skater competed in the Salt Lake Olympics, shortly after the 9/11 attack in the United States.

Now, with two bombings in Russia, she'll be going to the Sochi games as a broadcaster with CBC Sports.

"In the back of my mind, I'm worried about it because you hear about it and if I was still competing I would be aware of that," said Groves from her home in Calgary.

Terrorism expert Michael Zekulin of the University of Calgary said while "the Olympic games will always be the perfect target," he's a bit surprised the attacks aren't happening closer to the start of the Games.

"It might be anything from efforts to test the security that is in place, responses, it might be to cause some concern this will be prevalent during the actual games," said Zekulin.  

IOC President Thomas Bach expressed full confidence Monday that Russian authorities will deliver a "safe and secure" Olympics in Sochi.

A suicide bomber killed 14 people aboard an electric bus during Monday's morning rush hour, a day after a bomb blast killed at least 17 people at the city's main railway station.

"This is a despicable attack on innocent people and the entire Olympic Movement joins me in utterly condemning this cowardly act," Bach said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the victims."

Volgograd is located about 650 kilometres (400 miles) northeast of Sochi, which will host the Olympics from Feb. 7-23. Russia's first Winter Games are a matter of personal pride and prestige for Putin.

Russian authorities believe the two attacks were carried out by the same group. No one claimed responsibility for the bombings, which came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov threatened new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Olympics.

Bach said his letter to Russian president Vladimir Putin expressed "our confidence in the Russian authorities to deliver safe and secure games in Sochi."

"I am certain that everything will be done to ensure the security of the athletes and all the participants of the Olympic Games," he said.

"Sadly terrorism is a global disease but it must never be allowed to triumph," Bach added. "The Olympic Games are about bringing people from all backgrounds and beliefs together to overcome our differences in peaceful way."

Russian Olympic Committee chief Alexander Zhukov said there was no need to take any extra steps to secure Sochi in the wake of the Volgograd bombings because "everything necessary already has been done."

Still, the Volgograd bombings have brought home the security threat to Olympic athletes and administrators preparing to travel to Sochi.

Athletes, officials from around the world react

Rene Fasel, president of the international ice hockey federation and head of the umbrella group of winter Olympic sports bodies, said security in Sochi will be similar to Salt Lake City.

"It will be very difficult for everybody. People will complain about security," Fasel said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm sure the Russians will do everything possible, but that means we will have an unbelievable [tight] security control."

Fasel said the Olympics should not bow to the threats.

"We have to be strong," he said. "We decided to go to Sochi and the only answer to these bombings and terrorist incidents is to go there."

Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjoergen said Sunday she was frightened by the first attack in Volgograd.

"It's still difficult to say whether it has anything to do with the Sochi Olympics," she told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. "This came suddenly and I need to find out more about it. But one is slightly prepared for this kind of thing to happen and of course I'm a bit scared. I'm counting on that they will take good care of us and that we have good security during the games in Sochi."

Gerhard Heiberg, a Norwegian IOC member who organized the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, said he was not surprised that bombings have occurred ahead of the Sochi Games but voiced confidence in the Russian security plans.

"I feel that everything that is humanly possible is being done," he told the AP. "When we come to Sochi, it will be impossible for the terrorists to do anything. The village will be sealed off from the outside world."

The British Olympic Association said it was monitoring the situation in Volgograd and was in regular contact with the Foreign Office, police, the IOC, other governing bodies and athletes.

"Our preparations for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games continue and we are confident the Russian officials will regularly assess the security measures that are in place to make certain the environment is as safe as possible," the BOA said.

With files from CBCOlympics.ca

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