Sochi 2014: Security concerns extend to U.S. uniforms, rattle athletes and families

The Winter Games are fast approaching and the nearer they get, the fewer the assurances about safety and the greater the unease some are feeling about the very idea of going to Sochi.

Relatives of members of Team U.S.A., who have trained for years for this event, are skittish about going, with some either deciding to stay home or to curtail their activities inside Russia because of the possibility of terrorist attacks. It is a measure of just how sobering, rather than celebratory, these Games are that last week American athletes and their supporters are cautioned about wearing their uniforms and gear outside venues and it has nothing to do with the reviews of Ralph Lauren’s designs.

“The U.S. Department of State has advised that wearing conspicuous Team USA clothing in non-accredited areas may put your personal safety at greater risk,” the U.S. Olympic Committee wrote athletes in a memo that was reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. According to the Journal, the memo encourages athletes to help ensure their safety by enrolling in a State Department traveler program.

U.S. Olympic officials, snowboarder Greg Betz told the Journal, “have told us not to wear our USA gear outside of the venues, [but] I have so much faith in the United States and our safety that I’m not too worried about it.”

Every Olympics brings precautionary advice for athletes, but the Sochi Games are different, taking place, as The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins puts it, “on the edge of a war zone.” The United States takes safety so seriously that it will, CNN reports, have two Navy warships in the Black Sea during the Games in case “something happens like a major terrorist attack and we need to get Americans out,” an official told CNN.

And that’s apart from the crackdown on gay rights under a law prohibiting “propaganda of nontraditional sexual practices” among minors. Just recently President Vladimir Putin told reporters that gays had nothing to fear in Sochi as long as they “just leave kids alone, please.”

So much for hopes that politics and violence could be set aside for two weeks. It’s enough for some to question the validity and relevance of the Games in a smaller global village. As The Post’s Charles Lane wrote, “any benefits have to be weighed against the Olympics’ costs, which are political, financial, moral and — for athletes ravaged by steroid abuse — human.” And, if that’s a step too far, maybe a U.S. boycott might have been in order. After all, for the first time since 2000, the United States delegation to the Olympics will not include the president, vice-president or first lady.

“I was hoping that everybody would pull out,” David Letterman said recently on “The Late Show with David Letterman,”  “and everybody would say ‘This is not right. This is medieval times. We’re not going.’ ”

Putin plans a security “Ring of Steel” with his reputation riding on the success of these Olympics Games. So much for the spirit of the Games.

“It’s getting to the point where our lives are on the line if we go there,” Tim Oshie, whose son T.J. plays on the U.S. hockey team and for the St. Louis Blues in the NHL, told the Times.”They’re talking about terrorizing families. I’d rather stay in the homeland.”

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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Cindy Boren · January 27

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