Are Olympics too big to succeed?


Even if the Olympics are your favorite sporting event, bar none, a nagging thought has been hard to tamp down in the past few days amid the steady thrum of downbeat news swirling around the Winter Games which begin Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia.

Are we quickly getting to the point where the Olympics are too big not to fail?

It's painful to even ask the question. Olympic athletes' performances are still reliably breathtaking. And the idealism the Games spark has sometimes quite literally changed the world.

And yet, three things happened in just the past week that made the too-big-not-to-fail idea a fair question to ponder even if you're not a cynic or an alarmist.

Stockholm, one of the six finalists competing for the 2022 Winter Games, abruptly canceled its bid rather than risk staggering cost overruns and being stuck with white elephant facilities -- continuing a trend of withdrawals that even some members of the notoriously head-in-the-sand International Olympic Committee admit is a concern.

To make matters worse, Stockholm's unexpected announcement came amid more reports about the ratcheted-up security concerns besetting the Sochi Games because of terrorist threats from Islamist insurgents, many of them based in the Dagestan region a few hundred miles to the south of Sochi -- a worry that would not seem highly unusual in a post-9/11, post-Munich Games world if a handful of U.S. lawmakers hadn't also made the rounds on the Sunday morning news talk shows last weekend and pointedly said they're concerned that visitors to Russia won't be safe during the Games.

Dagestan has become the focal point of the insurgency as two separatist wars rage on in neighboring Chechnya.

''I would not go [to Sochi], and I don't think I would send my family,'' Sen. Angus King of Maine said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

''We don't seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the Games,'' said Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who appeared on the same CNN show as well as on CBS's "Face the Nation."

This is sadly ironic for a ton of reasons -- including the fact that wars were actually suspended in Greece during the staging of the ancient Olympic Games.

What made the portrait of the roiling challenges facing Sochi feel worse was King and Rogers aired their concerns one day before Russian officials said they had foiled one bombing plot and engaged in a shootout that killed Eldar Magatov, a man described as a senior Islamist militant and a suspect in numerous attacks on Russian targets. The U.S. officials spoke two days before word came that there's an amped-up search now on in Sochi for up to three women from Dagestan whom the Russian authorities suspect could be planning a suicide bombing like the twin attacks in Volgograd that killed 34 people in December. 

Those blasts followed Chechen warlord Doku Umarov's call to launch attacks on the Olympics, a threat that was repeated by the two purported suicide bombers in a video that was released this Monday promising more blood would be spilled if the Games go on.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a lot of personal and political prestige riding on the success of these Games, and he has voiced the safety assurances you'd expect him to spout.

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