POSTED: October 24th 2013

NEIL WILSON: A bomb too close for comfort

Sochi will open the Games on February 7th / Sochi 2014
Sochi will open the Games on February 7th / Sochi 2014

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Six hundred miles from Sochi in the Russian city of Volgograd a bomb exploded on a bus this week, killing at least six people. The suicide bomber was a native of Dagestan, fewer than 400 miles from Sochi.

As if the Winter Olympic organisers needed any more headaches four months out from their Games. Bad enough that we all anticipate warm weather to thaw the slopes, that the event is now so far over-budget that it is the most expensive in Olympic history , that Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law may prompt protests and that neighbouring Georgia threatens boycott.

Now in this bombing we have what may be the first indication that security will be the greatest of all issues for the Russian organisers in February.

That should not come as a surprise. As far back as 2007 when Sochi was awarded hosting rights, the region of the North Caucasus which borders the Black Sea resort with Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia was a killing zone. Paul Goble, professor at the Institute of World Politics, says that the IOC decision was akin to “putting the Olympic Games in Beirut.”

Yet just as the FIFA executive ignored to their cost summer temperatures in Qatar, so the IOC chose to close its eyes to the geo-political problems of Sochi. Now they are back to haunt them. The International Crisis Centre said recently that 1,225 people were killed in the region in 2012, a further 495 in the first six months of this year.

Doku UImarov, leader of an Islamist group in the region seeking the establishment of an emirate independent of Russia, has called on his followers to strike Olympic targets. Russian reaction has been a security clampdown worthy of North Korea, or, let’s be honest, to London 2012.

The promised “near-total surveillance”  of electronic communications has prompted the US State Department to advise Americans going to the Games to leave at home their lap-tops and smart phones. Unmanned drones will keep watch from the air.

All public demonstrations will be banned in the area of Sochi which will become a restricted zone like those that dotted the old Soviet Union. Upwards of 50,000 troops and police will be drafted into this area for what a decree by president Vladimir Putin calls the “suppression and neutralisation of the terrorist and criminal threat”.

Easy to forget at such moments that the Olympic Games is a festival of sport which in ancient times was held in a period of truce between warring nations. I cannot say I am unhappy that I shall not be present at an Olympic Games for the first time for close to four decades.

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Sochi 2014 · Dagestan · Olympics

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