U.S. Winter Olympics team warned: Don’t wear your team gear outside Sochi venues
The US Olympic Committee has advised athletes taking part in the upcoming Sochi Games to avoid wearing their uniforms or Team USA logos outside Olympic venues, the State Department said.
The warning, released Friday, came amid growing concerns in Washington over security at the Games and as Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said the United States would work with Russian authorities on “appropriate arrangements” if an emergency required evacuating Americans from Sochi.
On advice from the State Department, the US Olympic Committee told athletes in a memo not to call attention to their nationality outside the Olympic village as a safety precaution, officials said.
“I think it is just common sense that perhaps if you are an American Olympic athlete, perhaps you don’t want to advertise that so much, far outside of the venues,” a senior administration official told reporters.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that “we are in very close contact with the US Olympic Committee on issues related to security.”
But she added that Russia was not a unique case and that the US government often provides similar advice at “big international events.”
The White House has signaled concern over Russia’s security preparations for next month’s Winter Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, with officials privately complaining about Moscow’s reluctance to share intelligence on terror threats.
The United States has repeatedly offered to provide help to Russia to ensure security for the event, a question that came up in a telephone conversation between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
But Hagel, speaking at a news conference after talks with his French counterpart, said Russia had not taken up the US offer so far: “Right now, there has been no request from the Russian government.”
The Pentagon has announced it is deploying two warships to the Black Sea as a “precaution” in case of a terror attack.
When asked if the US military had contingency plans in place to evacuate Americans in the event of a terror attack, Hagel said: “If we need to extract our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do this.”
US officials later said that a potential evacuation might not require a role for the military as commercial planes might be used. And in any emergency, American authorities would need to work closely with the Russian government, officials said.
“First and foremost, Russia has the responsibility in responding to and coping with situations that might affect the safety, security and the presence of their guests,” a senior administration official told reporters.
“All the American citizens there are their guests,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The US government will work with the Russian government on the various options should they need to be implemented.”
As with previous Olympics, Washington has set up an operations center in Sochi with various security experts and a clear “chain of command” that would apply in any contingency, officials said.
Signaling its concern, the State Department issued an updated travel alert for Russia, urging all Olympics-bound US citizens to “remain attentive regarding their personal security at all times.”
“Large-scale public events such as the Olympics present an attractive target for terrorists, and the US government continues to monitor reported threats of potential terrorist attacks in Sochi or in Russia in general,” it said.
Insurgents based in North Caucasus republics such as Dagestan who are seeking their own independent state have vowed to disrupt the Games in a bid to undercut Putin.
In a recent video threat posted on a prominent North Caucasus extremist website, two men sitting in front of a jihadist flag warn of planned attacks at the February 7-23 event.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]