NBC is “confident” that the security protocols in place in advance of next month’s Sochi Olympic Games will protect correspondents and athletes in the face of increasing terror threats, top NBC Sports officials said on a conference call Thursday.
“We have never seen the type of security that we are now seeing in Russia at any prior Olympic Games in terms of the credentialing, surveillance, and amount of resources that have been committed to this area,” NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel said.
“There really is a perimeter that the Russians — as everybody is now seeing — has overlaid just a tremendous security force.”
Zenkel’s comments come on the heels of a video posted on Sunday supposedly of two terrorists responsible for the December bombings in Volograd, who promise “a surprise package” for athletes and tourists traveling to the Olympics in Sochi.
The supposed terrorists vowed that if the Games happen as planned, they will wage an unspecified attack on Sochi as vengeance for “for all the Muslim blood that is shed every day around the world.”
But calling off the Winter Olympics may not be as simple as pulling a plug.
David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, told TheWrap that only a devastating attack would cancel the games — and the effect would be equally devastating.
“Canceling the Games would require an event so catastrophic as to warrant full news coverage of the event, seemingly 24/7,” Carter said.
“It would have to relegate the Games to an inconsequential state, one that would make the [International Olympic Committee] look terrible for continuing with athletic competition.”
For example, the NFL canceled all football games the week after the 9/11 terror attacks, because, as then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said, “We had to pause and make sure everyone had our priorities straight, make sure we understood how unified we needed to be, understand where we were at.”
But the Games could also suffer if the threat or potential event were great enough to scare off athletes or nations.
Team U.S.A. athletes are already expressing concerns about traveling to the Games, and some are choosing not to bring their families. U.S. Senator Angus King, an Independent from Maine, said on CNN Sunday that he wouldn’t go to Sochi for the Olympics, nor would he send his family.
“Even if the Games were not canceled outright, insufficient participation due to a last minute development that caused nations to pull their teams, would have an enormous impact on the Games’ viability,” Carter said.
If the Games were to be canceled, Carter said, the decision would have to be made by the myriad partners with a financial stake in the competition. NBC paid $4.38 billion in 2011 for the rights to air the Summer and Winter Olympics through 2020; Russia has reportedly spent $50 billion preparing for these Games alone.
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“NBC, like all networks, has been knee deep in contingency planning and crisis management for a very long time,” Carter said.
“They treat sports properties, advertisers, and those that finance the Games as partners, as strategic partners. So, they would collectively determine how best and when to move forward together, and do so while protecting and ensuring one another’s (financial) interests.”
NBC believes it will not come to that. Zenkel said the volume of security forces dwarfs what has been present at other Olympics — including past Summer Games, which are three times the size of the Winter edition.
Security measures will include credentialing, which for the first time will be extended to all spectators as they enter the indoor zone and mountain sports area.
“There has to that balance between the security which everyone expects and wants to be very rigorous, but not to the degree that it stifles people’s enjoyment of the Games,” NBC Olympics Executive Producer Jim Bell said.
“I think that, barring any event, this will be an Olympic Games in all its glory,” Zenkel added.
“I don’t think that concerns us in terms of viewership in any way. I think as Jim said, the awareness is tremendously high and the stories are sort of all in place ready to unfold.”