Meredith Vieira admits she has concerns about security during the upcoming Sochi winter Olympic games, as well as anti-gay laws in Russia, but that won’t stop her from being at Matt Lauer’s side as NBC’s commentators for the opening ceremony Feb. 6.
"I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t [concerned about security]," said Vieira. "I really believe the Russian government is going to do everything it can to avoid that situation. This is [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s baby and they don’t want anything to go wrong. But that doesn’t mean things won’t happen elsewhere in the country because I think those terrorists are given an opportunity and they will take it."
Vieira says that she was part of intense discussions about the situation in Russia and whether it was safe before she made the commitment to go. In the end, she says it has to be about the athletes.
"But I'm basically assured that it will be fine," added Vieira. "But it may not be. I know that. But I feel good enough about it that I’m going to be there, for sure."
Vieira, who has often said one of her best friends is a gay man, is also concerned about anti-gay laws in Russia. She says she won’t be surprised to see some peaceful symbolic actions, especially during the opening ceremony -- and even encourages it. "In terms of demonstrations and all that," she says, "I would love to see everybody walk out with rainbow ribbons. I think something will happen at the opening ceremony."
Her own views on laws against homosexuality are strong and clear: "I feel it’s terrible. I think it’s discrimination, clear and simple. But it’s a very slippery slope because, to me, that law seems extremely vague. You could basically do nothing and be perceived to be offering homosexual propaganda -- or lifestyles propaganda. I find it pretty scary but you know we went to China -- you talk about human rights violations in China, there were many of them."
Vieira and Lauer were teamed in 2012 for the Olympic games in London, drawing praise from some and criticism from others for their commentary.
She has nothing but nice things to say about her former Today show colleague, with whom she shares a birthday. “I love Matt,” she says enthusiastically. "He’s great and I’m looking forward to it."
Meredith, 50, was born Dec. 30 in 1953 and Lauer, 47, on the same date in 1957. In December, Vieira told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show that she and Lauer are like The Odd Couple: "I’m the sloppy one. He is the opposite of that. He’s very finicky. He’s a beautiful dresser."
Vieira says that as of early January, they had just started preparing for Sochi. "We've had one big meeting so far and then we have another one in a couple of weeks,” she says. “But it's one of those things where I just got a big book, the first sports book that they send you on the Olympics. It's a little over 100 pages and I'm methodic and I memorize everything. I did this in London."
Still, Vieira knows that she has to be ready for anything: "So much is changing that by the last minute it gets very intense. There are athletes still in the process of dropping out or being excluded and all of the things that can happen. There will be last-minute changes to the opening ceremony so you have to be able to roll with the punches."
That is where she looks to Lauer. "There's nobody better than Matt Lauer at doing that," says Vieira, adding tongue-in-cheek: "If he gets sick that day, there will not be an opening ceremony because I'm not showing up. No way!"