BUDAPEST, Hungary – An email in Russian and English threatening national Olympic delegations and athletes with terrorist attacks at the Sochi Winter Games is a hoax, not a real danger, officials said Wednesday.
Hungarian sports officials, who first reported the email, said they have received assurances from the International Olympic Committee and from the Sochi organizers that the email had no merit. In light of that, the Hungarian Olympic Committee said it will still take part in the Winter Games, which run from Feb. 7-23.
Olympic committees from several other European countries, including Germany, Britain and Austria, said they had also received a similar message. None would share them with The Associated Press.
Wolfgang Eichler, spokesman for the Austrian National Olympic Committee, said the email was a hoax that officials had seen before.
“It’s a fake mail from a sender in Israel, who has been active with various threats for a few years,” Eichler told Austrian news agency APA. “It’s been checked out because it also arrived two years ago.”
The IOC repeated its stance that it “takes security very seriously.”
“(We will) pass on any credible information to the relevant security services,” the IOC said in a statement. “However, in this case it seems like the email sent to the Hungarian Olympic Committee contains no threat and appears to be a random message from a member of the public.”
Security is a major concern at all Olympics but especially in Sochi, which is in southern Russia just a few hundred miles (kilometers) away a simmering Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus. One Islamic militant warlord has urged his followers to attack the Sochi Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pet project.
Earlier, Bence Szabo, secretary general of the Hungarian Olympic committee, told the sports daily Nemzeti Sport that the message included threats about a terrorist attack in Sochi and urged the Hungarian delegation to stay away from the Winter Games.
Germany’s national Olympic association, the DOSB, also said it had received “several times the same mail with unspecific, general warnings” and it had sent it onto security officials.
Many officials said national committees get Olympic threats fairly often.
“We are not aware of any threats that have been deemed as credible being directed toward our delegation,” British Olympic Association spokesman Darryl Seibel told the AP. “Organizations such as ours receive email correspondence all the time – some of which seem to lack in credibility.”
A spokeswoman for the Switzerland’s Olympic committee said similar threats were common so close to the Winter Games and athletes and officials would base their travel plans instead on the assessment of security officials.
“This is kind of an everyday mail. This is normal before every Olympics,” Martina Gasner told the AP.
“If they (security officials) say you can go to Sochi, we will go. And if one day they say it’s too dangerous and we command you not to go, then we will change our plans,” she added.
Graham Dunbar in Geneva, Stephen Wilson and Rob Harris in London and Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt contributed.