Russia ramps up Olympic security in Sochi, but can they do it with a smile?

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. Just 30 days now until the Winter Olympic Games officially open in Sochi. And today, Russian authorities began in a sense locking down the resort town on the Black Sea and all the surrounding Olympic venues. Tens of thousands of security will be watching over the entire area. Massive security precautions have become commonplace at the Olympics, but in Russia, after two recent suicide bombing in the city of Volgograd, security being taken very, very seriously. Michael Payne is an advisor to global sports events. He's also the former head of marketing for the International Olympic Committee. So the risks are clear, Michael. How do you actually balance though, selling the Olympics is this great, once in a lifetime sporting event, in light of those risks? Michael Payne: Well, as you say, the risks are clear and unfortunately, for the last 40 years, ever since the Munich Olympic Games, there has always been a threat of terrorism, such as the media profile of the Olympic Games, it gives of a platform for different organizations to make a statement. And that's why security has probably been the number one issue of every organizer and host country. But I don't think the Russian organizing committee is necessarily doing anything different than London did a couple of years ago, or even America, you know, when they think back to Salt Lake just shortly after 9/11. It is a balancing act though between making sure that the athletes and the visitors are all protected, but equally, that you don't let the security suffocate the very special atmosphere of the Olympic Games. Werman: So how do you do that? I mean how do you actually make security palatable during the Olympics? Payne: I remember in Beijing, about three weeks before the games I met with the leadership of the organizing committee and I congratulated them and said look, everything is ready...you have nothing to worry about, but if I may, just one word of advice. And they all looked at me nervously and said what's that? And I said the word is smile, because I just walked into your offices, I had to clearance through security and it was a little bit intimidating. If you were to train the soldiers to smile and welcome, you will completely transform the atmosphere. And I was told a few days later they had the 20,000 soldiers on the parade ground teaching them how to smile, and by the time all the guests came, you had a very warm welcome from the security staff. Werman: I mean that may have been a good marching order for London and Beijing. I would say less easy to smile in Sochi after these bombings in Volgograd. I mean have you ever seen an Olympics where the risks were so pronounced to start? Payne: I mean yes. I mean if you think of, I mean people forget there was a major terrorist incident in Northwest China about a month before the games. In London, the day after its election, 40 people were killed on the Underground, so that the security threat and challenge is particularly in what they would call the public domain outside of the venues. It has always been a major challenge. Werman: I mean the Kremlin has been trumpeting these thousands of troops today, just a month away from the games. Does that inspire confidence in you? Payne: Sadly, it's the nature of the world and the environment we live in, and what the Russians are doing is identical to the hosts of you know, the last 10 Olympic Games. The security doesn't start the week before the games, the security measures on the Olympics are, you know, in place the moment construction starts. You know, I go to Sochi for two weeks. I was actually a lot more nervous going to London because of the challenges of locking down a whole city. In the case of Sochi, they are, because it's a fairly small footprint, able to lockdown a complete city. But obviously, the broader risk and threat is gonna be what is happening throughout the country as to whether they're, you know, there's a repeat of the tragic incident in Volgogard. But I think Sochi itself will be very secure. Werman: And for the Russians, the advice is still smile, smile, smile. Payne: I think it's important and I think they would certainly be advised and encouraged by the IOC to making sure that there is a complete lockdown and secure position, but also their finding a way to do that so that it doesn't come across as a completely militaristic environment, that there is still a friendly approach. And whether it's you know, trading Olympic pins with the security staff or just the welcome, I'm sure that they are already carefully looking at the balance so that the special atmosphere isn't suffocated. Werman: Michael Payne, former head of marketing for the IOC, thank you very much. Payne: My pleasure.