HAMBURG, Germany (AP) _ German athletes will be free to decide whether to compete at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in February, officials said Sunday. They assured at the same time that the games will be the best protected in Olympic history.
``Every athlete has to decide for himself or herself if they want to go to Salt Lake City,'' said German Olympic committee chairman Walther Troeger. ``It's a free decision.''
Fritz Wagnerberger, president of the German skiing union, said no pressure would be exerted on athletes to travel.
``I am not losing any sleep over Salt Lake City,'' Wagnerberger said. ``We've done everything we can, but absolute security cannot be guaranteed. Nowhere in the world.''
``No one is forced to travel to Salt Lake City. We will accept the decisions of our athletes,'' he said.
The National Olympic Committee (NOC) is expected to name about 160-165 athletes to the German team.
Thomas Bach, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said security measures of unprecedented scope will be implemented during the February games.
``Salt Lake City will be the most comprehensively protected games in history, and guarded games are better than no games at all,'' Bach said.
Bach said the security budget of the games was dlrs 310 million, more than three times the amount spent for security at the 1996 Atlanta summer games.
Troeger, who is an IOC member as well, said that ``for the time being,'' he saw no reason to call off the games, although the IOC can take away the Olympics if the host nation finds itself in a state of war.
Bach also supported that view and said the United States had received a mandate from the U.N. Security Council to respond to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
``We cannot punish (the United States) even more now by taking away the Olympics,'' Bach said.
Bach said he would support a call for a cease-fire during the Olympics.
The German officials made the comments during an NOC meeting in Hamburg over the weekend. The NOC decided that Germany will bid for the 2012 summer games. The cities of Frankfurt, Duesseldorf, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Hamburg and possibly Berlin will compete to become the single German candidate.