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The Guardian

The Volgograd Bombs Are a Warning over Olympic Excess

The more elaborate the staging of international sporting events, the more they are liable to attract protest and terrorism

The bomb blasts in the southern Russian city of Volgograd remind us that modern Olympiads are nationalist stunts first, and sports events second. Each one is more expensive and more politicised than the last, therefore becoming a magnet for enemies of the relevant state.

Vladimir Putin's February winter games in Sochi have already matched Beijing 2008 in the enormity of their cost. The transformation of the site on the Black Sea has run to a reported $50bn (£30bn), which makes London's £9bn extravaganza seem a bargain. One contract for $7.4bn went to a personal associate of the president. The cost of these essentially trivial events would shame the Emperor Nero.

The Sochi games are a shameless promotion of Putin's Russia. He himself received the sacred flame in Moscow's Red Square as if Ivan the Terrible were receiving a relic of the holy cross. It has been dispatched to the north pole and to outer space. A giant stadium is being constructed for just the few hours of opening and closing ceremonies.

Athletic elitism, the glorification of the human body, has succeeded religion as Marx's opium of the people. Yet they are increasingly congregations of governments and their agents. And the more chauvinist their staging, the more inevitably they attract dark forces of protest and terror. Rio de Janeiro, home to both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, has led ordinary Brazilians to revolt at the appalling cost. Sochi, close to Russia's enemies in the Caucasus, is a sitting target for those eager to rain on Putin's parade.

Sensible countries should de-escalate these events or boycott them. They are staged by corrupt international sporting bodies who feast on them and have no care for the cities and peoples they impoverish. The Olympics should either return to their origins in sport, using existing facilities and more limited range of disciplines, or leave each sport to organise its own world championships. The Sochi way is madness.

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Simon Jenkins

Simon Jenkins is a journalist and author. He writes for the Guardian as well as broadcasting for the BBC. He has edited the Times and the London Evening Standard

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