The two-week Sochi Winter Olympic Games have begun overshadowed by concerns of possible attacks, despite the host’s efforts to reassure the world that the event is safe.
Ballet, man-made snow and avant-garde art marked the opening of the most expensive games in Olympic history which cost about $50bn, 10 times what Canada spent to host the games four years ago, raising doubts of corruption.
Attending the opening was Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, in an additional bid to brush off security warnings made almost daily, in the weeks leading to the event’s inauguration.
The US transport agency temporarily banned on Thursday liquids and gels in carry-on baggage on flights between Russia and the US.
This came a day after the US warned airlines that fighters may target them by placing explosive materials in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes in an attempt to disrupt the Olympic Games in Sochi.
European officials have also expressed their concern of an attack during the sporting event.
This follows a December twin bomb blast that killed 34 people in Russia’s Volgograd, and was followed by threats made by a group of rebels from Russia’s North Caucasus to attack the Sochi Winter Olympics in a video published online.
However, US President Barrack Obama said on Thursday that Russia had an “enormous stake” in thwarting violence at the Sochi Olympics, adding that Washington was doing everything it could to help keep athletes safe.
“I think the Russians have an enormous stake, obviously, in preventing any kind of terrorist act or violence at these venues. They have put a lot of resources into it,” Obama said in an interview with US Olympic television host NBC, the AFP news agency reported.
The Russian government is also overlooking worldwide gay right protests, hoping calls against a recently anti-gay law will not jeopardise the much-needed success of the sport ceremony.
Gay rights activists across the world held protests in about 20 cities on Wednesday against the Russian government to denounce a law it passed last year outlawing the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations”.
The activists say the law has contributed to the intolerance against the country’s homosexual community.
Russia’s deputy prime minister said on Thursday that the organiser will not discriminate against Sochi visitors or athletes because of their sexuality.
Backing the government’s support for the so-called gay propaganda law, Dmitry Kozak said athletes are free to express their views and discuss their sexuality as long as they “leave the kids alone”.