By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) – Athletes heading to the Sochi Winter Olympics have been warned not to wear team kit with large logos promoting their country on their way to Russia due to security concerns, British Olympic officials said on Thursday.
Britain has joined the United States in cautioning athletes and officials against wearing “overtly branded” clothing en route to Sochi where the athletes’ village opens on Thursday.
Security at the Winter Games is expected to be tight with the potential threat of an attack on Sochi, which lies on the western edge of the mainly Muslim North Caucasus, scene of an insurgency aiming to create an Islamist state.
A spokeswoman for the British Olympic Association (BOA) said its 56 athletes and 64 officials were advised to travel in items from their 111-piece team kit with small, discrete logos.
“While we have not received any information or advice suggesting an increase in the threat level, we are taking a common-sense approach in recommending that team members wear less overtly branded Team GB kit during their journey to Sochi,” the BOA spokeswoman said.
“This advice is similar to guidance being offered to other delegations by their respective National Olympic Committees.”
Concern about potential attacks on the February 7-23 Games has heightened in the wake of twin suicide bombings last month in the city of Volgograd, about 700 km (400 miles) northeast of Sochi, which killed 34 people.
British officials have warned that further attacks were likely and could take place anywhere in Russia.
The U.S. Olympic Committee, which is sending the largest team to Sochi, with 230 athletes, issued a travel memo advising against wearing conspicuous Team USA gear outside the secure Olympic compound, such as the red, white, and blue cardigan with stars and stripes designed by Ralph Lauren.
“The U.S. Department of State has advised that wearing conspicuous Team USA clothing in non-accredited areas may put your personal safety at greater risk,” said the memo, widely reported in the U.S. media.
Officials caution athletes about safety at every Olympics but the BOA spokeswoman could not recall previous cautions about not wearing branded team kit.
Countries competing at Sochi are taking various measures to ensure the safety of their athletes and spectators.
While France’s delegation has not received cautions over kit, its 116 athletes will receive extra protection at Sochi from French national police and gendarmerie special operations units, sports minister Valerie Fourneyron said on Thursday.
This comes on top of the 37,000 personnel on combat alert deployed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We have done some preparatory work with our experts and everything has been done to make sure our athletes and fans are safe,” Fourneyron told daily Le Parisien. “There will be maximal vigilance.”
About 6,000 athletes, coaches and officials from around 90 countries will take part in events at Sochi ranging from Alpine skiing to ice hockey and snowboarding.
(Additional reporting by Julien Pretot in Paris, Editing by Justin Palmer)