SALT LAKE CITY – The chief organizer for the 2002 Winter Games expressed frustration Tuesday with Olympic protocol that restricts his ability to assure foreign athletes of security measures being taken for the February games.
Mitt Romney said there was little he could do to calm the fears of two French skiers who say they are afraid to travel to the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks and anthrax infections. One of the French skiers even suggested putting off the games.
Romney said the International Olympic Committee doesn't allow him to speak with or send messages to foreign athletes or even their national Olympic committees. He has to go through the IOC, which relays his messages to national Olympic committees that are supposed to inform athletes.
"It's a very attenuated communications flow from us to the athletes," said Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. "We just need to find a way to get to the athletes."
Details of Salt Lake's nearly $300 million security plan for the Feb. 8-24 games apparently haven't reached the French national ski team.
"I'm worried and even frightened," slalom champion Pierrick Bourgeat told the French sports newspaper L'Equipe on Monday. "I'm afraid of flying."
Bourgeat also expressed fear over the deadly cases of inhalation anthrax in the United States.
"I don't want to be contaminated by a virus for two World Cup races," he said. "I don't want to be killed for that."
Aspen and Beaver Creek in Colorado will stage World Cup Alpine races this year.
"There are many places in Europe that could stage these races," said Bourgeat, a winner of three World Cup slalom races, two of them last season.
Bourgeat said the Salt Lake games should be postponed for a year.
Teammate Frederic Covili, winner of last month's World Cup giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, is "worried like everyone," he told L'Equipe. "The importance of the games makes them an easy target. But I want to go there."
Gilles Brenier, director of the French men's Alpine ski team, told The Associated Press the team would travel to the United States this month for the World Cup races. The French Ski Federation hasn't asked for the races to be moved to Europe.
French biathlon World Cup winner Raphael Poiree said the games should go ahead.
"If the games were canceled or postponed, it would be the biggest victory for the Taliban," Poiree told L'Equipe. "Personally, I trust the security measures put in place for the games."
Short-track speed skaters in Salt Lake City last week for Olympic trials said they were comfortable with new security arrangements, which included bag searches for athletes at the Delta Center -- the first time, athletes said, their gear was searched at an Olympic venue.
Romney said he was willing to charter flights for foreign teams in the event of a disruption in commercial air travel. Some national Olympic committees, he said, charter their own flights.
Only the slim chance of a world war can cancel the Winter Olympic, said Romney, who suggested athletes have more to worry about than traveling.
"What they do as part of their sport is a lot scarier than flying here," he said.