The NHL and its players’ association don’t always get along, but on this matter they are steadfast in agreement: If terrorists attack Sochi before the start of next month’s Winter Olympics, the players will reconsider going. If there’s a significant attack during the Games, the Canadian men’s team will return home.
Emergency-exit strategies for NHL players, Canada’s women’s hockey team, as well as athletes in other sports, have been a key part of the planning for these Olympics. Islamic extremists view Sochi as an inviting target and have vowed to rid the world of these “Satanic Games.”
Not only have there been two suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd – 34 people were killed in the twin blasts – additional threats have been recorded and e-mailed to as many as five countries sending athletes and officials to Sochi. Hungary was quick to dismiss the warning it received, insisting it was investigated and posed no real threat.
Still, the tension is building as the Feb. 7 opening ceremony for the Sochi Olympics near.
Some athletes have advised their family and friends to stay home. Others believe the heavy police and armed military presence will be enough to ward off attacks inside the Olympic perimeter.
The coastal cluster is a compact area where the opening ceremony, hockey and other on-ice events will be held. Troops will also be patrolling the mountain cluster located 48 kilometres outside of Sochi.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he was “not really at liberty to discuss contingency planning.”
(No details of an Olympic withdrawal have been made public by any of the sporting organizations involved.)
Daly added via e-mail: “I don’t anticipate having to reconsider our decision to participate, but I’m also not in a position of knowing what the next 15 days will bring. We won’t put our athletes in a situation where it is obvious that their participation would subject them to an unreasonable risk of danger.”
The NHL Players’ Association shares that stance and “continues to be in contact with Olympic and security officials regarding plans for the Olympic Games in Sochi, and will work closely with all concerned,” it said in a statement.
For its part, the Canadian Olympic Committee has gone on record saying it expects “a top quality Olympic Winter Games” in Sochi and Canada has taken measures to protect its athletes and support staff.
The COC added it has worked “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.”
Some 60,000 soldiers and police officers have been assigned to make good on Russia’s hopes of transforming Sochi into a post-Olympic destination spot for world travellers.
Canadian cross-county skier Devon Kershaw has chosen to believe in the host country’s ability to protect the 6,000 athletes and tens of thousands of spectators during the 16 days of competition.
“We’ve talked about security in Russia – as we have in Torino [Italy in 2006] and Vancouver  – the Olympics are such a huge event with so many working parts that it pays to have a plan and discuss the ‘just in cases,’” Kershaw said. “Personally, I am not concerned with the threat of terrorist activity in Sochi. … I will be spending the whole Games up at the cross-country ski venue – that people can only access via a gondola – so for our team, we feel like it should be pretty safe.
“I do at times worry for my family who are coming to watch, and others that will be staying down in Adler [the seaside town most of the events take place in]. Let’s all hope for a safe Games.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted other international events, such as the G8 and G20 summits, have been held in Russia without incident and Olympic visitors will be safe.
Russia has spent $3-billion on security. The overall cost of the 2014 Olympics is $50-billion, making these Games the most expensive ever, Summer or Winter.