Local and international figure skating officials say they have no plans to postpone or move the 2003 World Figure Skating Championships from Washington but acknowledge they might have to reconsider if the United States goes to war against Iraq.
The championships are scheduled to bring 197 skaters from 42 countries to MCI Center March 24-30. International Skating Union bylaws state that skating leaders can cancel an event at any time if they believe the athletes' safety is at stake.
However, officials from the ISU, U.S. Figure Skating Association and local organizing committees say they are preparing for the championships to take place even if the nation is at war.
"At this point in time, there are no contingencies or plans to move anywhere," said Jean Davis, the organizing committee executive director. "This event will happen; we see no reason for it not to happen regardless of the situation in the world."
However, Davis added: "If something should happen and a decision has to be made, the USFSA will be involved . . . [and] the ISU would obviously be involved. We will work together to come to a resolution that's in the best interest of all parties."
Though a number of skating officials privately said they felt jittery about being in Washington during wartime, at least three high-ranking international officials said they did not have reservations about sending their teams to the United States.
French Ice Sport Federation President Didier Gailhaguet, who is banned from attending the event as an official because of his connection to last year's Olympic figure skating scandal, and United Kingdom Ice Skating Association President Sally Stapleford said they expected their teams to travel to Washington whether or not the United States is at war.
"I see no problem," Gailhaguet said yesterday from Paris. "Our skaters may go to Washington. Sport is beyond this kind of actuality. . . . This should not have any influence on the world championships."
USFSA spokesman Bob Dunlop said no international federation has threatened to withdraw its skaters or even expressed concerns about the state of world affairs to the USFSA. He said, however, that organizers could run into logistical problems if skaters or judges backed out at the last minute, which several skating officials acknowledged was a possibility with the latest deadline for Iraqi compliance set at March 17 -- just four days before the start of the championships practices.
"I personally have no concerns whatsoever," Stapleford said, but added, "It's not something you can ignore. . . . I'm sure lots of people might be worried about flying to the United States if war is going to start that week."
Russian skating official Alexander Lakernik, the head of the ISU's technical committee, said some Russian athletes and officials -- including he -- have had some trouble securing visas to the championships. He said he did not know if the slowdown was connected to the impending war but assumed the visas would be issued in time.
"If the war really starts, who knows what [the situation] will be," he said by phone from Moscow. But "I don't think at the present there are any personal concerns. Some [Russian skaters] are already in the States; some are planning to go in the beginning of next week. I don't think it's an issue at the moment."
Security at the event is being handled largely by the District of Columbia Emergency Management Agency's task force for special events, which helps coordinate security for all major events in the District. The task force has been working directly with local organizing committee officials on operations at the two venues involved in the championships, MCI Center and the D.C. Convention Center, as well as around the transportation routes and hotels.
The security tab is expected to be picked up by local organizers, but Davis said she hoped the USFSA would ultimately help fund the venture. She declined to reveal the security budget, saying she did not want to jeopardize the operation.
President Bush and first lady Laura Bush have agreed to serve as honorary co-chairs of the event, and U.S. skating officials expect them to attend a significant final, such as the March 30 women's long program. One U.S. coach privately said skaters would be more relaxed if the president did not show up.
National women's champion Michelle Kwan said during a conference call this week that she hadn't thought much about being in the nation's capital during wartime but assumed that skating officials would cancel the event if the skaters' welfare were threatened.
"War is scary, of course," she said. "If the skaters' safety is on the line, of course there probably will not be a world championships, but we take things . . . one day at a time. I'm sure everything will be on hold if there is a war going on."
Special correspondent Amy Rosewater contributed to this report.