Volgograd Bombings Show Us What’s Wrong With the Olympics Today
On Sunday, a bomb exploded at the train station in Volgograd, a city in southern Russia, taking the lives of 17 and injuring at least 50. On Monday, a second suicide bombing occurred on a trolleybus approaching a stop near the hospital where many of the injured in the previous day’s attack are being treated. At least 14 have died and dozens more are injured.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a security clampdown in Volgograd and across the entire country. The two bomb blasts, occurring less than six weeks before Russia is to host the Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, are an argument for ending the elaborate, extremely costly, politicized “nationalist stunts” that the modern Olympics has become, as Simon Jenkins writes in the Guardian.
The Monday blast ripped apart a trolleybus that was packed full of people during the morning rush hour. Among the survivors are a pregnant women, two 16-year-olds and a 6-month-old baby whose parents are presumed dead. According to Vladimir Markin, the spokesperson for Russian’s main investigative agency, the bomb used was similar to that used in the Sunday attack on the train station. Police think that a male suicide bomber, who may have had an accomplice, was behind Sunday’s attack. Russian media have been reporting that the prime suspect is a doctor, Pavel Pechenkin, who had reportedly converted to Islam a few years ago.
Pechenkin is also said to have in recent years traveled to Dagestan, the Caucasus republic that, along with Chechnya, is where an Islamist-inspired insurgency has been fighting against Russian rule. Many in Russia assume that those who carried out the bombings hail from these regions and have targeted the Olympics, says the BBC.
IOC President Says He‘s Certain “Everything Will Be Done to Ensure the Security“ of All
In the wake of the back-to-back attacks, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach issued a statement calling the bombings “despicable.” He still claims to be “certain that everything will be done to ensure the security of the athletes and all the participants of the Olympic Games” which are scheduled to begin on February 7.
World leaders have condemned the attacks. So far, U.S. officials say that neither Russia nor the Olympics committee has requested any additional assistance in security preparations for the games. The Pentagon’s Army Colonel Steve Warren comments that the U.S. military has a “long history of working with national organizing committees to assist with Olympic security whenever it’s requested,” though such is unlikely to occur for Sochi due to “current mutual mistrust.”
Russians Are “Palpably Nervous”
For all the heightened security in Sochi and throughout the country, the BBC reports that Russians are “palpably nervous that following these attacks in Volgograd — which lies 700km north-east of Sochi — bombers could also strike elsewhere.” Volgograd, which was formerly called Stalingrad, has about 1 million inhabitants and is of “huge symbolic important to most Russians.” The site of one of the bloodiest battles Russia was involved in during World War II, Volgograd is, for most Russians, “synonymous with Soviet military glory and self-sacrifice.”
With the Sochi Olympics imminent, Volgograd may have been chosen for the two recent attacks for its huge symbolic significance, as “north Caucasian jihadist websites were quick to point out.”
Bombings Are a Reason to End the Over-Politicized Modern Olympics
Those double attacks should be a wake-up call for de-escalating the excessive significance and attention now paid not only to the Olympics but also to other athletic events like the 2014 World Cup and the Super Bowl. The Sochi games in particular have become “a shameless promotion of Putin’s Russia,” Jenkins writes in the Guardian; Putin “himself received the sacred flame in Moscow’s Red Square as if Ivan the Terrible were receiving a relic of the holy cross.”
What were originally events meant to showcase athletic accomplishment and, as IOC president Bach said, bring “people from all backgrounds and beliefs together to overcome our differences in a peaceful way,” have become co-opted by governments and their agents. The result is that they have become “magnet for enemies of the relevant state”; they are “staged by corrupt international sporting bodies who feast on them and have no care for the cities and peoples they impoverish.”
The revolt of ordinary Brazilians against the grotesque costs to create facilities and prepare for huge influxes of tourists for both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics shows that many are fed up with the staged products that so many major athletic events have become. The Boston Marathon bombing has revealed how sporting events can become opportunities for violence. Before it has even started, the Sochi Olympics — which are sure to be conducted under heavy security, with police and other security forces in constant surveillance and already under a shadow because of Russia’s “draconian anti-homosexual laws” – has become a travesty of the very global peace and harmony that the modern Olympics claims to represent.
Photo via Ilya Schurov/Flickr