With the threat of terrorism and the global impact of the Olympic Games, many people worry about the security risks of hosting an Olympics in Calgary in 2026.
City councillor George Chahal put voice to that worry, telling Journal reporters, “You know, we’re the best country in the world and we’re a safe and secure nation, but we must make sure that we have the appropriate security measures in place.”
As part of the Olympic Hindsight 2026 project, our team dug into past events to give readers a clear overview of violence at the Olympics, as well as new technology to combat it.
High-profile terrorist attacks
In a study that examined the Olympic-related terrorist attacks that were actually carried out, Australian researcher Ramon Spaaij estimated that since 1968, 22 attacks have directly or indirectly been related to the Games.
The most notable was in Munich, Germany in 1972, where the Palestinian Black September Organization took members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage, eventually killing five athletes, six coaches and a police officer.
Spaaij also included the 1987 bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 by North Korean agents as an Olympic-related attack. The death toll was 115. Among the motives of the attackers was the intent to frighten international teams from attending the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Spaaij wrote.
The study also included the 2013 bombings in Russia. In two separate locations, suicide bombers detonated and killed 36 people, “framing it as a warning ahead of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.”
State-sponsored violence and the Olympic Games
The Spaaij study concluded the two most deadly attacks were acts of state terrorism — the 1987 Korean Air bombing and the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico, which was carried out 10 days prior to the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. As many as 300 people died.
Journalist Adam Taylor writes, “Activists had assembled in the city’s Tlatelolco to protest the country’s authoritarian government, which was deeply concerned about its international image ahead of the Games.”
The Olympics as a target
The Olympic Games is considered an appealing target for many reasons. The event encompasses large spaces, attracts thousands of people from around the globe and plays out with the whole world watching.
Calgary security expert Gavin Cameron speaks of security differences between the 1988 Calgary Olympics and now.
“Security in  was pretty tight because the Olympics were obviously a target in 1972 in Munich, so by 1988 absolutely the Olympics had tight security. But the security at any major events of any variety has increased in the last 15-20 years for obvious reasons,” says Cameron, a University of Calgary professor.
Cameron says when assessing risk at a possible 2026 Games in Calgary, it’s important to keep the place (Calgary) and the event (Olympics) separate.
“The Olympics are the bit that matter here so Canada as host of the Olympics is secondary to the fact that it’s about the Olympics. So if the question is ‘if Calgary hosts the Olympics in 2026, is there a threat?’Then the answer is yes. If the question is, ‘is Canada a likely target for terrorism?’ That’s a totally different question.”
To read the full Q&A Cameron, visit this link.
Evolving security measures
Planning for and executing security measures is both complex and expensive. The Calgary bid committee estimates the cost of security would be in excess of $500 million.
As reported by Aljazeera, the current Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics has taken into consideration the large amount of security needed to prevent a terrorist attack. Back in January, South Korea unveiled its new police security unit for the Olympics. It featured high-tech equipment that consisted of “explosive-detecting robots, smart police cars, smartphones developed for policing activities, and drone signal jamming devices.”
In 2016, when the Olympics were held in Rio, the Games were not only monitored by approximately 100,000 police and army officers, but they also implemented “eye in the sky” monitors. This was developed by the U.S army in order to provide real-time surveillance within a 40 square kilometre radius.
For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Japan Times reported that the organizing committee would implement facial recognition software to ensure safer “entry of athletes, officials and journalists to the Games venues.”
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