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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Officials Hit With Red Tape

Dozens of Russian officials, sponsors athletes and journalists hoping to travel to next month's Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City may not be able to accompany the country's 360-strong team because of United States visa restrictions.

A spokesman for the Russian Olympic Committee said Monday that scores of visa applicants, including former Olympic champions Lidya Skoblikova and Vyacheslav Vedenin, were being summoned to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for interviews.

In Washington, the U.S. Justice Department has requested major last-minute changes in security arrangements at the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City out of concern that some sites had not been adequately protected from a terrorist attack, law enforcement officials said Monday.

The department's move came after Attorney General John Ashcroft visited Salt Lake City earlier this month and came away dissatisfied with security plans for parts of the city away from the sports arenas, officials said.

Speedskater Skoblikova won a total of six Olympic gold medals in the 1960s, including sweeping all four distances at the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, while cross-country skier Vedenin won two golds at the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo.

"It's hard to believe, but embassy officials have even challenged the trips of such famous sportsmen and sportswomen as Skoblikova and Vedenin," spokesman Alexander Ratner said.

"Of course, we understand the specific U.S. worries over security in Salt Lake City," he added. "But we also hope the American side will take our interests into account."

U.S. Justice Department officials said Ashcroft was concerned that terrorists might take advantage of what he saw as inadequate security in open-air areas of shops and restaurants in Salt Lake City and surrounding communities where crowds would gather before and after major sporting events. In response, Salt Lake City organizers have promised to increase surveillance and the size of their security patrols.

Ratner said Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpishchev, a member of the International Olympic Committee, also experienced difficulties in obtaining a U.S. visa.

Contacted by telephone, Tarpishchev said: "I'm going to the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday, so we'll see what happens then."

Tarpishchev said he was hoping to attend the IOC session in Salt Lake City on Feb. 4-5 before returning to Moscow for Russia's Davis Cup first round tie against Switzerland later in the week.

It is not the first time Russian athletes and sports officials have had problems obtaining U.S. visas.

Last year, two Russian Olympic champions were refused visas to compete at the world wrestling championships in New York before the event was moved out of the United States following the suicide attacks on Sept. 11.

Several Russian swimmers were also refused permission to enter the country for the world junior synchronized swimming championships in Seattle last August.

(Reuters, NYT)