The suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd late
last year have contributed to the climate of fear starting to
embrace the Winter Olympics being held in Sochi early next
At $US51 billion ($NZ62 billion), the Sochi Games are the
most expensive yet, surpassing the $US40 billion spent by
China on the 2008 Summer Olympics.
The games were already subject to a winter of discontent, as
global leaders decided to stay away from the extravagant
showcase in a pointed gesture against the punitive laws
introduced against the gay community in Russia by Russian
President Vladimir Putin.
The United States, in particular, made its own statement by
appointing openly gay former Wimbledon champion Billie Jean
King as one as its Olympic representatives, despite Ms King
having no obvious ties to the winter sports agenda.
Mr Putin responded by softening Russia's stance on gays as
countries started selecting gay athletes to compete at Sochi.
Also, Greenpeace members in prison on charges of hooliganism
were released and allowed to go home.
Members of Russian band Pussy Riot were allowed out of prison
to go home to their families, as Mr Putin tried to rebuild
the reputation of the country.
These games are important to Mr Putin. Back in 2007, when
Russia was bidding to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, the huge
amounts it was willing to spend were a point of pride, an
enticement meant to win over officials of the International
Mr Putin travelled to Guatemala City to give a rare speech in
English to the assembled IOC delegates, promising to turn
Sochi into a world-class resort for a new Russia and the rest
of the world.
His pledge to spend $US12 billion in Sochi dwarfed the bids
of the other finalists from South Korea and Austria.
Stories of corruption and the misuse of public money are now
daily occurrences from international media outlets.
The choice of Sochi meant everything had to be built from
scratch. Poor planning meant walls of stadia had to be
rebuilt several times as poor reconnaissance meant
underground streams were left undiscovered until something
Now, the twin terrorist attacks in Volgograd, within 24 hours
of each other, has added new problems to the already
The attention of the Russian security forces is focused on
the republic of Dagestan, which has become the hub of Muslim
separatist violence in recent years, and on connections to
the insurgent leader Doku Umarov.
Mr Umarov's influence appeared to be waning in recent years
until he surfaced in a video in July ordering his followers
to do whatever possible to attack Russia as it prepared to
host the Winter Olympics.
Although no one has claimed responsibility for the Volgograd
attacks, Mr Umarov's threats - ignored at the time - now seem
ominous as he had previously cited Russia's transportation
networks as potential targets.
Now, questions are being posed as to whether the suicide
bombings in Volgograd and one previous attack are the first
volleys in Mr Umarov's promised campaign to disrupt the
Olympics and discredit Mr Putin and his government.
So far, Olympic committees of countries planning to compete
at Sochi have expressed their support for Russia and, at this
stage, no country has said publicly it will not attend.
Privately, prospects of having athletes injured, maimed or
killed must be at the top of discussion and planning lists.
If not, they should be.
For athletes, the Olympic Games are a pinnacle of their
career and, as New Zealand athletes of the past can confirm,
a boycott of any games leaves a gaping hole in their shining
However, global terrorism is changing the face of
international sport. Even at international rugby matches
played in New Zealand, security is tight both for getting
into the game and during the time it is played.
The New Zealand Olympic Committee must now consider the
safety of this country's representatives at Sochi.
Even if the games are surrounded by a fortress-style wall,
accompanied by guards with weapons and competing with some of
the most sophisticated security measures yet seen, safety of
New Zealand athletes is paramount.