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Olympics: Russia races to complete hotels amid security concerns

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The organisers of Sochi Olympics on Sunday raced to finish all the hotels for the start of the Games in less than a week, as Australia banned athletes from leaving the Olympic zones due to security worries.

The Games, the biggest event Russia has hosted since the fall of the Soviet Union, are to get underway on February 7 at a ceremony starting at 2014 local time (1614 GMT) that is expected to project Russia's status as a world and sporting power.

Yet with the clock ticking down fast to the start of the Games, concerns grew about whether all the accommodation would be ready on time as workers toiled around the clock to put the finishing touches to hotels.

Media arriving early for the Games have found rooms still being furnished even as they checked in

"There are still some issues to be solved as it is always just before the games," International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach acknowledged as he attended a session of the IOC executive board in Sochi.

"But always in this respect we are in contact with the organising committee and we hope that the situation will be solved in the next couple of days," he added.

'Last minute issues'

Addressing criticism that three hotels in the mountain zone for the Games were not ready at all, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said that the worries had to be put in the context of 41,000 rooms being available for the Games.

"We have a few hotels that are not fully ready. Not a single person has gone without a room. Every Games has some last minute issues. These are being handled, and handled well," he told reporters.

He said that he expected the three mountain hotels to be ready but "would not put my life on the line" over this.

After winning the right to host the Games in a bid spearheaded by President Vladimir Putin, Russia had to build almost all its infrastructure from scratch in an almost virgin area, a drive that has caused huge concern among environmental activists.

"The first time I visited the Olympic Park was in August 2009 and it was an empty site. I'm not afraid that things are not yet completed -- they are tiny details and will be finished soon," said Oleg Kharchenko, the chief architect from state contractor Olympstroi.

Teams from New Zealand, Mongolia, Japan, Belgium and the Philippines were the first being ceremonially welcomed on Sunday in the two Olympic villages by the sea and by the mountains. The Russian team is due to arrive on February 5.

Sochi city no-go for Australia

The world will be scrutinising Russia to see whether it is capable of hosting a world class Games amid concerns about issues ranging from the risk of attacks by Caucasus militants and Russia's now notorious law against gay propaganda.

Russia is proudly presenting what it sees as a new concept for the Games, with stadium events like figure skating and ice hockey held in the Olympic Park on the temperate coastline and the alpine and nordic events in the snowy mountains above.

Despite being billed as the Sochi Games, the event is centred over 30 kilometres to the south of the city close to the resort of Adler, with self contained "mountain" and "coastal" clusters.

A security blanket has descended on the area after the deadly suicide bombings in Volgograd in December that killed 34 people and exposed the risk of militant attacks on the Games.

Cars need a special permit to enter the Sochi area and airport-style security is in force for commuters using local trains, with hundreds of volunteers body-searching passengers at each station.

But Australian Olympic team chef de mission Ian Chesterman said team members are banned from travelling into Sochi city as a security precaution.

"Team members are not permitted to travel to downtown Sochi," a statement said.

Chesterman said that athletes will be limited to locations within the security perimeters of the Olympic Park as the sporting complexes in the mountain zone.

Adams said that the recommendation to avoid Sochi city had not come from the IOC. "We believe that security is being handled very well," Adams told reporters.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140202/olympics-russia-races-complete-hotels-amid-security-concerns