Salt Lake City, UT, Sept. 25, 2001 (AP by Paul Foy)–With increased security plans already in place for the Winter Games, Olympic officials wanted assurances that foreign athletes won’t have a difficult time clearing U.S. immigration checkpoints in February.
The International Olympic Committee’s executive board was concerned that athletes might find entry procedures less accommodating in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks, according to Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.
“We predicted there would be changes, particularly for certain countries,” said Romney, who delivered a report by video link to an IOC meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. “Given what’s happened, it’s very possible that the processing time or procedures for certain countries might be impacted.”
IOC director general Francois Carrard said the organization expects the United States to admit all accredited athletes, journalists and other personnel. The IOC issues Olympic identity cards, which are accepted in place of visas.
“We understand that after such a tragedy the authorities of the United States review all the security plans, including access,” Carrard said. “We have recalled that the universality of the games should be respected … and that those athletes who are bona fide athletes, who are qualified, should be granted access.”
Romney briefed the IOC on security changes for the Feb.8-24 games that likely will include more fences at venues and tighter security at athletes’ housing and the IOC’s headquarters hotel.
Salt Lake safety commanders are fully reviewing plans after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
“The types of things we expect is a higher level of security at our alternative housing program at Soldier Hollow, a higher level of security than originally planned for the Olympic family hotel, potentially further airspace restrictions,” and baggage restrictions at venues, Romney said.
Soldier Hollow, outside Midway, Utah, is the Nordic venue and the only site for athlete housing other than the Olympic Village in Salt Lake City.
IOC members will stay at the Little America hotel in downtown Salt Lake, although IOC president Jacques Rogge still plans to take a room at the Olympic Village.
In Lausanne, the IOC expressed confidence in Salt Lake’s “very robust” security preparations and said no major changes or substantial amounts of money were needed.
Romney said he did not want to spend time contemplating the scenario of an airliner loaded with fuel crashing into a stadium during Olympic ceremonies. That scenario, IOC officials revealed Tuesday, has long been a part of Olympic safety planning.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the IOC ordered a report on whether it could be held financially or legally liable for any terrorism during the Olympics. But it appears liability would fall on Olympic cities and organizing committees, which take full responsibility for staging the games, Romney said.
The Salt Lake Organizing Committee is “on the hook for any terrorism act that we have not prepared for,” Romney said, but “we’re not spending our time worrying about it.”
Utah safety commanders plan to establish no-fly zones over the Olympic venues, and Romney said the U.S. military had the capability to “intercept” any errant flights.
Romney was reluctant to ccontemplate the possibility that the games might have to be called off if the United States and its allies find themselves in a sustained war against terrorism or rogue states.
“It’s our job to plan for the games,” Romney said. “I don’t even want to think about the unthinkable.”
The experience for athletes is unlikely to change much, Romney said. Security could hardly be made tighter at the Olympic Village, which will be heavily guarded and surrounded by barbed-wire fences.
But spectators could find longer waits and more thorough body and baggage searches at venue checkpoints, Romney said. And safety commanders also will probably impose restrictions on what people can bring into venues.