By Joel Sams
Senior News Writer
Two suicide bombings in Volgograd, threats from Chechen terrorists and wide media coverage of potential danger have made the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia a hotbed of security speculation. Asbury students and faculty working at the Olympics, however, are confident that they will be safe.
Jim Owens, dean of Asbury’s School for Communication Arts, is currently in Sochi. He says the security measures in place are “normal for the Olympics,” and that students are housed in a secure complex. Additionally, he says, all media in Sochi must be accredited.
“In the past, our journalism students, who are reporting for NBC affiliate WLEX-TV, have been able to do interviews and shoot stories without Olympic credentials,” he said. “In Sochi, all media have to be accredited in some way by either the government or the Sochi Olympic Committee. Every one of our students will have some type of accreditation that requires a type of security clearance.”
At this point, Owens says Asbury has not considered withdrawing from the Olympics.
“We always have to perform a bit of a balancing act with the Olympics,” he said. “We must keep our students safe, but the students have signed a contract committing to work at the Games. The Olympics are relying on our students, and to back out would impact a lot of different areas.”
Owens says that U.S. media have misrepresented the amount of danger in Sochi, reporting on extremists more than any other country.
“While there are risks in attending the Sochi Games, I think it is minimal for our students,” he said.
According to the Washington Post, Russian President Vladimir Putin has implemented extensive security measures in Sochi. These measures include “100,000 police officers, soldiers and secret service personnel; drones and attack helicopters; and advanced ground-to-air missile systems.”
Senior Leslie Ferrell, a journalism major, decided not to go to Sochi because of financial reasons as well as safety concerns. Her father had initially encouraged her to go, reminding her that travel would always include an element of danger. But after he heard a State Department report cautioning American citizens travelling to Russia, he reconsidered. According to the Associated Press, the report warned Americans to be “vigilant about their security due to potential terrorist threats, crime and uncertain medical care.”
“He kind of changed his tune,” Ferrell said. “The fact that he didn’t feel peace about it was a warning signal.”
Ferrell says she looked forward to the possibility of going to the Olympics for a long time. Now that she has withdrawn, she is disappointed, but she doesn’t regret her decision.
“I’m not afraid of never having a great opportunity again,” she said. “It was a leap of faith not to go, and to turn that down. It would be a really great adventure, but it’s not my adventure this time.”
Kyle Bailey, a senior media communication major, is currently in Sochi. He says he is confident sufficient security measures have been taken in Sochi, and he is not concerned by threats from extremists.
“If anything does happen in Sochi, first of all, I’ll be surprised, and second, I know that I’ll probably be safe even if something does occur,” he said. “My parents have reservations, I know, but I know this is what God wants me to do, so if it’s time to go, I’ll go but I don’t think anything bad will happen.”
Currently in Sochi, Bailey has been impressed by the Russian government’s security measures.
“It’s almost like being in a military state,” he said. “There are police and soldiers everywhere.
Having such a massive security presence can increase waiting times when going through security checkpoints and going into and out of venues, but they do their jobs well.”
Like Owens, Bailey attributes some of the apprehension surrounding the Olympics to negative media coverage.
“Our news coverage is always looking for something bad to happen,” he said. “I think up to a point that can be good, but past that point it’s really detrimental to the point of the Games, and the reason this happens—to unify countries, to bring people together through sports. I feel like our news media can take away from that.”
Bailey’s mother, Nancy Bailey, says that while she is nervous about students’ safety at times, she ultimately approves of Asbury’s decision to participate in the Olympics.
“At first I thought, ‘Maybe they should reconsider this,’” she said. “But after thinking about it and talking to my family, I think that ultimately God is in control, and we just have to trust that everything’s going to be okay.”