Category Archives: Olympic Games

Oilers fortunes at a crossroads in Oil Change’s fifth episode

Now that the dust has settled and we know who brought gold from the Olympic Games and who will remain on the Edmonton Oilers’ roster till the end of the season (at least), it’s time to reflect.

The fifth installment of Oil Change will help us do exactly that. It will air on Sportsnet, both on the national and regional networks, Sunday, March 16.

As has become a useful tradition, re-broadcasts will follow.

The newest episode will go along several tracks.

The first one inspects a development not many outside of the team thought they could expect: the Oilers have begun heating up, and all that amidst one of the harsher winters on record. Yes, any thought of this season’s playoffs seems to be gone, but not the fighting spirit. It may be a sign of things to come next season, but, in any case, the arrival of goalie Ben Scrivens, high-energy forward Matt Hendricks and hard-nosed blueliner Mark Fraser seem to have had more impact than many would have anticipated.

These moves happened even before the Olympic break so, officially, they do not count as trade deadline acquisitions. Except, there was a roster freeze in effect during the Olympic Games, so, why not be a bit more generous, right?

Three Oilers went to Sochi, Russia: Ales Hemsky to play for the Czechs, Anton Belov for the Russians, and Martin Marincin for the Slovaks. The few games after the Olympic break would be Hemsky’s swan song as an Oiler: he would be gone on trade deadline day to the Ottawa Senators.

But the new goalie, Ben Scrivens, would endear himself to the team and its fans even before the break: an NHL-record, 59-save, 3-0 shutout victory over the San Jose Sharks would do that for you.

Oil Change used the Olympic break to send its crew down to Oklahoma City and see how some of the younsgters are doing. They weren’t the only ones to make the trip to see the Barons, the Oilers’ AHL affiliate: general manager Craig MacTavish was on hand, too.

While Oil Change was there to report on the progress of people like Martin Gernat, Oscar Klefbom and Tyler Pitlick, MacTavish’s role was a tad more involved. The idea was for him to see, first-hand, the depth of his organization so he knows what moves he can (and can’t) afford come the trade deadline day.

You can be excused if you hadn’t known, but now you will: the Oilers’ Andrew Ference and David Perron dropped in by the NHL New York office on the club’s day off during their eastern swing, and they got to chat with the commissioner, Gary Bettman, himself.

This episode of Oil Change will take us all the way through the trade deadline day. We’ve all heard the rumours, and we know now what’s actually happened. Thanks to this episode of Oil Change, we’ll know how it happened and why, too.

And while we’ll be digesting the latest documentary by the award-winning (and Edmonton-based) Aquila Productions, they will be hard at work on the next segment.

Such is the life of documentary filmmakers: it doesn’t stop. And neither do they.

Have Xenon inhalations led Russians to their Olympic medals?

When is it doping and when is it not?

Many Russian athletes quite openly inhaled Xenon gas during the Sochi Olympic Games, a German TV network reported, and they have got off scot-free.

And, the WDR added, it can prove Russian athletes have been using Xenon at least since the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 2004. In fact, the WDR report says, documents created (allegedly) by Russian Ministries of sports and defence (in and of itself a couple of strange bedfellows) have been recommending the use of Xenon specifically to “enhance athletes’ performance.”

The fact that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has ignored its use helped, too.

A bit of basic information: Xenon is a chemical element with the symbol Xe and atomic number 54. It is a colourless, heavy, odourless noble gas, that occurs in the Earth’s atmosphere in trace amounts. Although generally unreactive, xenon can undergo a few chemical reactions such as the formation of xenon hexafluoroplatinate, the first noble gas compound to be synthesized.

Naturally occurring xenon consists of eight stable isotopes. There are also over 40 unstable isotopes that undergo radioactive decay. The isotope ratios of xenon are an important tool for studying the early history of the Solar System. Radioactive xenon-135 is produced from iodine-135 as a result of nuclear fission, and it acts as the most significant neutron absorber in nuclear reactors.

Xenon is used in flash lamps and arc lamps, and as a general anesthetic.

Thus basic information from Google and Wikipedia. So far so good, right?

Except: xenon just happens to enhance the creation of the erythropoietin hormone in human bodies. Too much Latin? How does the abbreviation EPO strike you? Does the name Ben Johnson ring a bell?

As we have been reliably informed by WADA years ago, EPO is a no-no.

Except, Mario Thevis of the doping-control lab in Koln in Germany told WDR, their scientists couldn’t test for xenon because they don’t know how.

Ooops, right?

Of course, Thevis added, there have been scientific tests made on animals, to see how xenon impacted them.

Here’s a verbatim translation of a verbatim quote: “Within one day, 24 hours, that is, creation of EPO increased from 1.6 to 160 per cent. That is a significant increase.”

Would the result in people be similar? Quite possibly, Thevis said.

WADA President, Craig Reedie of Scotland, said his office is going to check this information. “Our commision that deals with the banned substances list, will look into this issue very soon. We will be debating the issue of gas inhalations at the very next post-Olympic meeting.”

What will WADA debate?

“We have to know for sure whether this is doping,” former WADA boss Dick Pound was quoted as saying. “We have to establish whether it would or would not be possible to say during a potential investigation that the rules are unclear on this.”

And his personal take?

“This method was developed exclusively to enhance performance. So far as I am concerned, that constitutes doping.”

Thus Dick Pound.

Another case of the anti-doping crowd playing catch-up.

Of course, these guys have been playing catch-up all along. Logical in most cases, terribly illogical in the case of Swedish hockey star Nicklas Bäckström.

Just about two hours before the opening faceoff in Team Sweden’s gold medal game against Team Canada, Bäckström was pulled off the roster: an anti-doping test found traces of pseudoephedrine in his urine. They had known about it for some two days, and it took the anti-doping crowd all that time to inform the Team Sweden management about their findings.

Here’s the basic scoop on the dope, ooops, medication (courtesy drugs.com): Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant that shrinks blood vessels in the nasal passages. Dilated blood vessels can cause nasal congestion (stuffy nose).

Pseudoephedrine is used to treat nasal and sinus congestion, or congestion of the tubes that drain fluid from your inner ears, called the eustachian tubes.

Having read that, one can easily believe that all that Bäckström did was take a Sudafed or a Claritine or any of the usual over-the-counter medications to unstuff his nose.

Bäckström would not be the first hockey player to suffer severe allergies. One guy, in fact, had to quit hockey altogether, even though on the path to become a useful NHL player. His name is Jan Vopat. The combination of sweat and hockey gear caused swelling all over his body that wouldn’t go away for days on end.

Bäckström has been using the anti-allergic medication for years. His Team Sweden’s physician saw no issues with it. Bäckström had played in a number of international games for Team Sweden during that time, using the anti-allergic medication whenever he needed to be able to breathe, without any complaints or issues raised by anybody.

When the word came down from the mount, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to be sensible. So has the NHL. No use: when these guys dig their heels in, that marks the end of the story.

No wonder that the Swedes are now livid about the IOC.

“They ruined our fans’ greatest dream,” said Team Sweden’s GM Tommy Boustedt.

It’s not only the verdict itself but its timing, too, that makes him see red.

“This was crazy! I think it was a political decision. If we knew two days earlier, it wouldn’t have been that terrible, but they evidently wanted to make a bomb out of it.”

So far as Team Sweden’s management is concerned, the IOC’s stuffed shirts wanted to show how hard they fight doping. The future is going to be interesting: Team Sweden’s management is considering a lawsuit against the IOC. Not that anything would overturn the verdict on ice, the Swedes themselves said Team Canada was too good on that particular day, but they want to teach the IOC a lesson.

Former Team Sweden star Ulf Nilsson told aftonbladet.se: “Yes, one has to accept responsibility for what one is doing, but I don’t think you’re using this medication as doping. It would be funny to see the IOC’s stupidity if it wasn’t that tragic.”

Nilsson knows whereof he speaketh: he was found guilty of using ephedrin durting the 1974 world championships in Helsinki. All that because he used an over-the-counter cough sirup.

Not all is black or white, said a former Swedish high jumper, himself an Olympic winner in 2004, Stefan Holm: “We couldn’t let Bäckström play until all the results were in. We got them Sunday afternoon. Yes,” he conceded, “that did take too long, and we have to find out why, but it’s a tough job.”

Funny how quickly he turned from an athlete to a stuffed shirt of a bureaucrat.

If anyone has ever seen hockey players coming to their arenas before their games, most of them are clutching coffee mugs, sipping frantically. An informal statistic: most players consume anywhere between a half of a dozen to a full dozen cups of coffee every day.

Talk about stimulation!

Another proof the Olympic Games is as hypocritical as any event can get. Shameless, to boot. And it keeps getting away with it.

So, who won, anyway?

Congratulations, wrote a friend of mine from Europe, on Canada’s hockey gold medal.

I was surprised. Shocked, even. What have I done to deserve congratulations on this momentous occasion?

The answer was simple: nothing. Yes, just like those winning girls and guys, I am Her Majesty’s faithful subject. I use the some kind of passport. But that’s about it, isn’t it?

So, I e-mailed my friend, telling him that if anyone deserves congratulations, it’s those 25 guys, plus their coaches and managers and sundry support staff. Nobody else.

While I was at it, I looked at Team Canada’s roster more closely. While yes, all of them were born in Canada, two of the team’s three goaltenders ply their trade for Canadian-based NHL clubs, and so do two of the team’s eight defencemen. The rest of them are employed by American-based NHL clubs. Of the guys in suits, one works in Canada. Again, the rest of them get their paycheques from their U.S.-based teams. The numbers might be a bit different with the training and support staff, but that’s about it.

It didn’t matter much during the Olympic Games: they were all employed by Hockey Canada on the occasion.

Still, it is an interesting phenomenon: Canada won this medal, Canada won that medal, Canada won this or that number of medals.

Guess what: Canada won not a single medal. Many athletes who were born in Canada and are Canadian citizens won Olympic medals. Either as individuals, or as members of sundry teams. Come to think of it, many of these athletes practice, train, or whatever one decides to call it, anywhere but in Canada. And just as many see competition anywhere but in Canada. Does it make their medals less shiny? Less worthy? Absolutely not. But they are their medals, not Canada’s medals.

Granted, whether the majority of us are aware of it doesn’t matter, but we all have supported their efforts. No, not by cheering. By contributing financially. A huge percentage of the dollars the Canadian Olympic Committee bestows upon those athletes it considers worthy (meaning: medal hopefuls) comes from our pockets. It’s called taxes, and we’re all paying whether we like it or not.

Even the bonuses lavished on those who have actually won medals come from our pockets.

Yet, still, what we did was we paid some gladiators to perform. That does not make us co-owners of their medals.

This is not to say that those who made the Olympic squad or went so far as to win medals didn’t work hard. They had to. You have to work your hardest to make any kind of an impact in competitions as fierce as those that take place in the Olympic Games.

That’s what made it THEIR medals, not ours.

You might have noticed that when an athlete succeeds, most of us would applaud and say that WE won this or that. When an athlete fails to win, we are much more likely to say s/he or they lost.

It is a strange habit that should not make us proud.

It’s all part of the jingoism and nationalism, both dangerous occurrences when tied to athletic competitions of any kind. To quote, yet again, the immortal George Orwell:

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved. It is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.

See: George Orwell, The Sporting Spirit, an essay published in 1945.

In the days following the Olympic hoopla, we can see talking heads that should know better, creating, for example, tentative rosters for hockey’s Team Canada for the 2018 Olympic Games to take place in South Korea. Who knows whether the NHL will succumb to the pressure again and defy any sound business sense by agreeing to join the scam one more time? Not even the NHL (and its players’ union, the NHLPA) can answer this question yet. The basic pre-condition for creating such fantasy-rosters does not exist. And yet, the hysteria is not about to be cured. In fact, it seems that those who infect us with this dangerous virus are not even aware they are spreading a disease.

In any case, next time, please be more modest, shy and unassuming: you (and I) did not win anything. We might have lost time watching others win, but it was their victories, not ours.

Bless you, eh?

Olympic voyeurism drags humans to an incredible low

Humankind is going to hell in an 18-wheeler, laughing and cheering all the way.

Need a proof?

How about everybody and their dog watching the shameful spectacle a.k.a. Olympic Games?

That’s how low we’ve sunk.

It’s become a regular, continuing pastime to list the many scandals the Olympic movement has gone through since its inception in ancient Greece. For a comprehensive list, check out the works by Scottish reporter Andrew Jennings (The Lords of the Rings: Power, Money & Drugs in the Modern Olympics, 1992; The New Lords of the Rings, 1996; The Great Olympic Swindle, 2000). To get closer to home, to Vancouver 2010, that is, here’s another well-researched documentary book: Christopher Shaw’s Five-Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games, 2008).

To sum up: greed, bald-faced lies, cheating, abuse of taxpayer money for private gain, turning blind eyes on all kinds of human rights abuses while awarding the games to the worst of dictators and authoritarian governments, the list is almost endless, and it keeps getting longer with each passing day.

A sampling: the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Not only is the event taking place in a region whose ownership is under violent dispute (and has been for a couple of centuries), thus sending costs for security skyrocketing. That would be peanuts compared to the fact staging of the Games in Sochi cost at least $51 billion (all amounts in U.S. currency). For comparison: not only has it exceeded the budgeted amount five-fold, it is also $10 billion more than the Summer Olympic Games of Beijing, China, 2008, and about three times as much as the 2012 Summer Olympic Games of London, England. A note: summer events are somewhat larger than their winter siblings. There are more sports taking place in environments other than on snow or ice. And there are more countries taking part in the summer games, too.

Olympic help? Don’t be funny

All the talk about helping the host communities are bald-faced lies. The number of people displaced because the Olympics take precedence keeps growing with each passing Olympic cycle.

And the environmental concerns are covered just beautifully. Another perfect example: when it seemed snow on the slopes might begin to melt (Sochi is a sub-tropical city, after all), Russian organizers used all kinds of chemicals to accommodate the athletes. HUH? Ever tried to salt your driveway and then push the resulting mix off it all the way on the lawn? No? Try it. Once spring and summer come, there will be no grass in the area where you put contaminated snow.

Olympian supporters keep talking ad nauseam about sports promoting peace.

Here’s a definitive answer: “I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved. It is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.

Thus George Orwell in his 1945 The Sporting Spirit. He was commenting on a series of football (soccer to North Americans) matches between the Soviet club Dynamo and several British clubs shortly after the Second World War.

Orwell didn’t mention in his fine commentary that both nations had suffered enormously during the war that was barely over by the time the games were staged, and that the money spent on these events would have been better spent elsewhere. But you do get the point.

Whose money is it, anyway?

Meanwhile, to get back to the here and now, Russian megalomaniacs, obviously, have no issues with starving their nation white. They are staging their games in their traditional Black Sea playground, and the cost be blasted.

Why, by the way, in Sochi? Ah, but that’s simple: because Vladimir Putin loves the place. And because his friends, a.k.a. Russian oligarchs, love the place, too, besides having all kinds of commercial interests there.

But these are NOT the real issues.

The real issues are much more simple. How is it possible that this shameless and scandalous abuse of human curiosity not only still exists, but that it also shows all signs of continuing?

Many will say it’s the good old voyeurism in all of us. Well, they may have a point. After all, history tells us people in the Middle Ages loved attending public executions. In fact, there have been entries in all kinds of chronicles mentioning that women would succumb to the excitement so much they would indulge sexually while the convicted criminal was drawn and quartered.

Yes, but haven’t we moved ahead from the Middle Ages?

No, it seems we haven’t. We only have better means of spreading the nonsense, and there are more of us available (and willing) to watch.

Canada’s CBC television trots out Ron James with his take. He is a comedian but even so, some of his stuff is perfectly unacceptable. Especially when he aligns the Olympic torch and its relay with the ancient Greek games. Not so fast, old boy, not so fast: the entire torch and relay idea comes from Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

And millions of Canadians watch this drivel and come to think of it as gospel.

But, speaking of history, where did the sporting spectacles get those who’d indulged the most in the past? Ancient Greece ended up in ruins whence it hasn’t recovered till now. Good old Romans with their gladiators fell to barbarians before you could say (in proper Latin) Veni, vidi, vici (I went, I saw, I won). The only thing we’ve got to remind ourselves of those glorious times are the ruins of the arenas and the gladiators’ cry (again, in proper Latin): Morituri te salutant, Caesar (Those who are about to die greet you, Emperor). Come to think of it, even the proud Latin language has suffered. It’s the generally accepted language of physicians and some legal terms come from the Roman legal code, too.

But that’s about it.

That was then, this is now.

Dirty deals all over the place

Even if we forget about the criminality of it all, we still ought to be in shock.

Criminality? Absolutely. Organization of bidding for the right to apply for the right to stage the Olympic Games, then the bidding itself, then the construction of venues most of which would be left to decay once the Olympic flame is extinguished, and the actual operation of the event, all of these stages of the process are so riddled with wink-wink, nudge-nudge, I’ll-scratch-your-back-you’ll-scratch-mine shenanigans, it would take scores of forensic accountants to untangle the web. But were it to happen, prisons would be bursting at their seams.

How about the promise British Columbians received? It won’t cost you a penny. Indeed, it’s not costing them a penny. It’s costing them (and the rest of Canadians) billions.

Some of the more moderate critics say they would have no issue with staging such extravaganzas and with entrepreneurs behind them raking in profits as if there’s no tomorrow if only those entrepreneurs invested their own money into it, rather than the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.

Fine, except that’s not how it works. Governments of all political shades (left- or right-wing), linked in one way or another to those who stand to gain, appeal to our patriotism and whatnot, just so we can gape in excitement over feats nobody not on some kind of stimulants would be able to achieve.

Besides, and that’s one of the major points, it’s worse than shocking to see people, some of them well-educated, too, who spend time watching slick marketing shows called Olympic Games coverage. This or that event is brought to you by McDonald’s, official restaurant of the Olympic movement. Now, there’s a symbol of healthy eating for you! And how about Coca-Cola, another major sponsor? We should rather die of thirst than consume their products. But the message we get is perfectly straightforward: look at all these healthy and fit-looking people, performing such incredible feats. They wouldn’t come close if they didn’t drive Chevrolet cars, munching on whatever they call the substitutes for meat at McDonald’s these days, washing it all down with Coke.

Yes, Olympic boosters and most of the participating athletes will say, but then again, Olympic Games is one of the few occasions where the best can compete with the best.

Questionable, at best, this sentiment. Perhaps the only sport in which regular tournaments and world championships do not pit the best against the best is hockey: the best are still in Stanley Cup playoffs when world championships are taking place. Neither the NHL nor the International Hockey Federation (IIHF) would agree to adjust their schedule. Thus, as it is, the Olympics are, indeed, the only chance to see the best playing the best.

Besides, just looking at the most recent games at Sochi, one Canadian speed skater relinquishes his position in a race to another, because that another skater has a better chance of winning. The relinquishee made the team because he had been better at races where Olympic positions were decided. It doesn’t matter that the other guy was generally better at that particular distance. He didn’t earn his spot. If the relinquishee did not give his spot to the other guy, would we have seen the best against the best?

Do these athletes and their supporters have a point?

Not really. Yes, it’s all about competing. In fact, life is a competition, too.

Nobody’s denying professional athletes their existence and their livelihoods. If someone insists they want to see the best so they can take up this or that particular sport and they want to know how to get better at it, fine.

But would that minuscule number sell an arena out? Would these athletes be just as famous if only those keenly interested in taking part themselves came to see them? Here’s the clincher: if ordinary people abstained from watching sports and, instead, indulged themselves, would these athletes be famous enough to help sell products they’ve signed up to help sell?

Ignoring reality

A recent news item mentioned that while some Canadian employers encourage their employees to watch Olympic coverage on television on company time, others ban such entertainment outright.

The story didn’t say so, but its tone suggested its writer was surprised that anyone can be Grinch enough to deny their employees such an opportunity.

That the cruel employers might have felt they’re paying their employees to show up at work on time and do their jobs, providing services or manufacturing products that they can sell, using that income to pay their employees, that, it seems, never crossed that writer’s mind.

But that’s nothing compared to the following story: years ago, in 1972, the British film director John Schlesinger (Far From the Madding Crowd, Midnight Cowboy, The Marathon Man, etc.) was invited to join a group of outstanding filmmakers to help make a movie about the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. The film was called Seen by Eight, and Schlesinger chose to concentrate on the marathon.

Just as he was getting ready to tell his camera guys to start their equipment rolling, Arab terrorists attacked the athletic village. A pitched battle took place. It would cost several Israeli athletes their lives, and the terrorists would pay dearly, with their lives, too. Schlesinger asked the athlete he was about to film what he thought of the events. The answer was telling: the athlete has never thought about the tragedy, he told Schlesinger, and he meant it. If he did think about it, he wouldn’t be able to compete.

That, by the way, was that athlete’s own explanation.

And that about sums it all up.

Top-notch athletes, Olympians and sundry champions, world or otherwise, live in an artificial bubble. And humankind is moronic enough to not only watch them living in that artificial bubble, but to get exercised about watching them living there, to boot.

This is called terminal stupidity.

And most of us are stupid enough to cheer and laugh about it.

Prince Potemkin alive and well in Putin’s Olympic Russia

Uniting the world, thus one of the popular Olympic slogans. That would be something citizens of a small village in the neighbourhood of Sochi, Russia, have a pretty good reason to dispute.

Akhtyr has been cut off from the rest of the world. New sporting venues, new freeways, new railway line (the latter two items apparently the most expensive in the world, in metre-by-metre calculations), and no access to water of any kind, including fresh and drinking for the poor citizens of Akhtyr.

Not only that. Akhtyr has no access to the new freeway, and it provides no access to Akhtyr, either. The old road, one that has served faithfully for ages, is closed. A formerly simple trip to a bus station that used to take a quarter of an hour when going slowly, has now become a two-hour military march.

Speaking of the military: army personnel have taken over a footbridge the locals have been using, and nobody’s allowed to approach it (never mind cross it) without a proper permit. Since nobody had told the locals they would be needing a permit, nobody bothered to apply. Given the Russian officialdom’s speed in solving matters, the poor Akhtyr citizens won’t see any permits until long time after the Olympic Games are over (and the military sentries gone).

In a civilized country, you could complain.

In Russia?

To whom?

All the authorities are concerned with is that nobody sees Akhtyr from either the slopes or any other venues, or the freeways, never mind the railway line. Who cares that construction crews changed the roads inside the village into impassable canyons? Who cares construction crews destroyed their wells and, thus, their water supply? From time to time, you can see a truck delivering water to Akhtyr in a tank, except: it can’t get in because the village has been cut off from the freeway access – and so on, and so forth. The villagers either make the two-hour trek to get some water, or they are out of luck.

But, as mentioned, the rest of the world won’t see any of it.

Welcome to the Prince Potemkin country.

That, if you care to remember, was a Russian noble during Catherine the Great’s time (18th century for those who like their information detailed). His full name was Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin-Tavricheski. As legend has it, he created a ruse by building painted façades to mimic real villages, full of happy, well-fed people, for visiting officials to see and enjoy.

President Vladimir Putin’s officials have gone one step further: they didn’t build any new façades, they just made Akhtyr disappear from sight. In fact, they could have made Akhtyr disappear altogether, and there would be no complaints about lacking water, period. Josef Stalin, whose well-preserved museum is located in Sochi, right inside the building he used to use as his vacation home, would have done it without a second’s hesitation. Times, they are a’changing, what?

Why didn’t they think of it?

This is the question many keep asking themselves as they arrive in Sochi. Mainstream media tends to avoid such unpleasant topics as Akhtyr or, heaven forbid, the business of unfinished buildings, from hotels to venues, the grass that hasn’t grown yet (and crews, in a typical Potemkin fashion, had to go around and paint the soil green). The stray dogs of Sochi are a topic that would make SPCA cry in despair.

Thanks to social media we now know that wild dogs have made hotels their new homes. Thanks to social media we now know that water in those hotels – when it runs, that is – stinks like early-morning urine.

What do the Russian authorities do? They follow their leader. Their president was a high-ranking official with the KGB espionage and political police service.

An example? A reporter who had the gall to complain about the quality of water in his lodgings was told he was using too much of it anyway, and when he asked how did the authorities know, they showed him a video of him in his hotel room bathroom. So there.

Nothing beats good surveillance, eh?

Here’s a brief list of some more complaints:

  • As washingtonpost.com has noted, out of nine hotels allegedly reserved for journalists, only six have opened their doors by the opening day.
  • CNN has reserved 11 rooms for its staff; they got confirmation everything was fine five months ago. They have got but one room upon arrival. A digit must have gone AWOL.
  • A reporter for The Guardian had to wait several hours for his room “to be finished,” only to find out there was no central heating, never mind a link to the Internet. He was happy he had a bed, at long last.
  • Speaking of water, Stacy St. Claire of the Chicago Tribune reports that first there was no running water in her room, but they told her at the front desk it would start running shortly (meaning an hour later) but, please do not use it to wash your face, it may be dangerous. How? None of your business. It may be dangerous, you’ve been warned.

The terrorists have been promising to give the Russians a terrible black eye if they dare stage the games in the area Islamist insurgents consider theirs. No need to: the Russians took care of it themselves.

Here come the U.S. Marines? Sochi goes on military footing

Two American navy ships are moving into neutral waters off Sochi in the Black Sea.

Sounds like a report from a military exercise, does it not?

Except it’s news connected to the forthcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

The two vessels come equipped with torpedoes, cruise missiles and H-60 Seahawk helicopters.

Should North Caucasian terrorists attack the Olympic Games, as they have been promising to do the last few years, U.S. navy will do their best to evacuate American athletes to safety. In fact, a Boeing C-17 Globemaster, its crew at the ready, is on stand-by at a U.S. airbase in Germany. It could land in Sochi within about two hours of takeoff from Germany. It would take care of those American athletes who couldn’t be accommodated aboard the ships.

According to a CBS television broadcast, the Pentagon has consulted its operation plans with the Russian defence ministry and received no objections.

So much for the peaceful Olympics. The Islamic insurgents have achieved their first objective. When people talk about the Olympic Games in Sochi, the first thing they mention is the security concerns. Maria Sharapova, breaking away from her tennis duties to serve as the Games’ promoter, gets but a scant mention. Even perfectly unsanitary living conditions in what were supposed to be first-class accommodations for foreign guests have taken a backseat. Debates about who is going to win what now seem perfectly irrelevant.

Who cares about medals if the main question becomes: are we going to get out of this alive? In one piece?

Big Brother in action

The Russians have got used to the fact that their authorities know about their every move.

Now, everybody who flies into Russia will have to get used to the same treatment.

This is not science-fiction. This tidbit comes straight from the horse’s mouth. According to Russia’s transportation minister Maxim Sokolov, all airlines whose flights land anywhere in Russia (or near it) have been obligated to supply Russia’s government with information about their passengers. To be more specific, Sokolov added that this information is passed on directly and completely to the secret police (FSB, Federaljnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, a direct progeny of the infamous KGB).

All of the 113 international airlines that fly into Russia have been supplying this information as a matter of fact, said Sokolov, adding there were some issues with the European Union but those have been straightened out, too. Meaning: the EU now toes the line, too.

That Russian airlines had to fall in or else remains an unsaid fact.

And just to be on the sure side, everybody who travels anywhere in Russia (or into Russia, or from Russia, for that matter) ends up in the FSB database. That includes railway and bus passengers and even those whose cruise ships stop but for a few minutes anywhere close to a Russian port.

Also, with the exception of direct flight corridors into and out of the Adler airport, the air above Sochi has been declared a no-fly zone.

That the Russians have been monitoring all telephone and Internet traffic not only inside their country, but outside of it, too, hasn’t been a secret, either.

Not that they are paranoid. The danger exists. But it also gives President Vladimir Putin’s government a unique chance to introduce draconian measures from the past. A past many had hoped they would not live to see ever again.

“If you behave, nothing’s going to happen to you,” runs the official line. Of course, it would be a government official’s job to decide whether you’re behaving or not.

Come to think of it, Putin wasn’t a high-ranking KGB official in an earlier incarnation for nothing. This experience has come in handy.

No bad news permitted

It’s difficult to credit this story out of Southwestern Siberia, but Russian journalists insist it’s true.

All of the Kuzbass mines in the Kemerovo region were ordered to stop all and any operations that could be dangerous.

This is one of the largest coal mining areas in the world. Found in the so-called Kuznetsk Depression between Tomsk and Novokuznetsk in the basin of the Tom River, bordering from the south with the Abakan Range, Salair Ridge from the west, and Kuznetsky Alatau from the north, it’s far enough from Sochi to fear any explosions under the ground could or would endanger the Olympic Games directly.

But they can. Indirectly, that is. Accidents killing scores of miners, mostly because they would be ignoring basic safety measures, have been rampant.

“In order to prevent extraordinary situations as the Olympiad opens, I am hereby ordering the suspension of all mining activities where accidents can happen.”

Thus a cable sent out to all whom it might concern by the region’s governor, Andrei Gammerschmidt, as quoted by local media.

Will this cost be included in the Olympic budget? Kidding, right?

Where are we looking?

Most Canadian media have been busy telling Canadian hockey poohbahs whom to name as replacement for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, a.k.a. Serbian Assassin. He fought a futile struggle, hoping against all odds to be able to rehabilitate his right tibia, broken last November, in time to be able to join Team Canada.

Of course, if he asked any orthopedic surgeon, they would tell him that while admirable, his heroic effort would be wasted. Come the time to hop on the Sochi-bound charter plane, he would be nowhere near to being able to put in one period of competitive hockey. But it gave Canadian sports journalists the chance to talk about tibias as if they knew where to find them, learning even how to pronounce the word properly.

In any case, the important stuff never made Canadian headlines.

What stuff?

Greediness that would make the Vancouver Olympiad of 2010 look like a Boy (and Girl) Scouts’ picnic. Shady deals that would put all of the Olympic Games since ancient Greece to shame. Militarization of the entire enterprise to the point where civilians need not apply.

The wastefulness of it all. The abuse of primitive nationalism to the point of dangerous jingoism.

All the way to putting U.S. navy on alert just outside Russia’s sovereign waters in the Black Sea.

The Olympiad stinks to high heaven

Do we really, but REALLY need Olympic Games?

If you decide to be frank, honest and sincere, your answer will be biblically simple: NO.

Yes, yes, yes, Olympic Games is an event that celebrates sports, all that’s so good about us as humans, and so on, and so forth.

Drivel, all of it, of course.

We could, too, adjust the question: who needs Olympic Games?

The answer is going to be simple: those who make money off it.

Let’s be serious here: do we as taxpayers really need the new stadia and sundry highly specialized buildings used by top-notch athletes – and nobody else?

Granted, supporters of the Olympian idea will tell you that, for example, sites built for the 1988 event in Calgary, or the more recent one, 2010 in Vancouver, will serve numerous athletes for decades to come. Which athletes? Your everyday Marys and Joes who want to try, say, a bit of speed skating on a perfect oval? Absolutely not. They serve (if they do serve anybody at all) only those athletes who are at the top. Rank amateurs need not apply.

Speaking of which: if it is somebody’s hobby to, say, swim across a bay, hop on a bike, ride for another while, and then finish the course running, why should taxpayers support it? Those willing to pay for the privilege of watching it, would pay. But why the rest of us?

To cut to the chase: most (if not all) national Olympic committees survive on government-granted money. Yes, they do a bit of fundraising among private businesses, but they would not survive without taxpayer money.

Should it be so? And should it remain so?

The answer, again, is an unequivocal no.

A bit of history

Modern Olympics were conceived by a French aristocrat. Baron Pierre de Coubertin noticed his country’s nobles were bored stiff each and every summer. You can only go through so many drinking binges a year. They needed a bit of recreation. The good Baron summoned some British aristocrats because if anyone knew how to write rules, it would be the British.

Voila, and here is your distraction.

To make sure none of the unwashed join in, the rules insisted on strict amateur status. After all, the original participants didn’t need more money. They were swimming in the stuff. It was the glory that they were after, and the chance to break the tedium.

To drive the message home, Olympic poohbahs would strip American Jim Thorpe of his gold medals. He won them in 1912 in both pentathlon and decathlon. Alas, he played two seasons before the Olympics for a semi-professional baseball team. Compared to today’s circumstances, he only got a pittance. But it was enough for the guardians of Olympic purity.

Hypocritical beyond belief. Especially because the founders of what is now known as modern-era Olympics cited the ancient Greek Olympiads as their example.

Here’s an uncomfortable fact: massive cheating on a scale unheard of in our times (at least, publicly, that is) was rampant during the ancient Greek Olympiads: “Let me win this race, and my sponsor will give you a job, so many drachmas a year, room and board included.”

And, yes, ancient Greek Olympic athletes were professional. Each and every one of them. The only difference: they had private supporters, sponsors in today’s lingo, and there was no government support.

But such revelations would tarnish the purity of the Olympic flame!

First, forget that incongruity: truth will tarnish something. Anything.

Secondly, as importantly, Olympic torches (and torch relays) were not, and have never been, part of the ancient Greek Olympic history. Yes, an ancient Greek winner could drop by at a temple of his choice following his victory. He didn’t have to, but most of them did. He would light a torch to honour his (not her, mind you) god (or goddess), offer a sacrifice and, if spirits moved him thus, join in a general orgy.

Olympic torches and torch relays come to us courtesy Adolf Hitler’s Reichskanzlei (Imperial Chancellery). Torches, after all, have always been an integral part of what we know as a Teutonic tradition. And the relay idea came from the Reichskanzlei, too. Hitler’s propaganda operators were imaginative enough to suggest that the last runner remain a mystery until the moment he (again: no she involved) picks the torch up to light the flame in the cauldron. An interesting aside: the first such last runner was a ranking member of the Hitlerjugend (Hitler’s Youth), as sporting an organization as any group can get.

So much for the historical purity of the Olympic Games.

Today’s realities

It depends on your view to decide whether to be proud of Dick Pound’s Canadianism.

In any case, the guy is responsible for changing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and, by extension, the entire Olympic movement into a giant corporation. It was Pound who got the Olympians such sponsorship deals as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Visa and many others. The cynicism of it all is beyond pale: are you sure McDonald’s is the best provider of healthy food? Are you positive Coca-Cola’s beverages are precisely what the doctor ordered?

Besides, these sponsorships have never been meant as replacements for money coming to the national Olympic committees (and, again, by extension, to the IOC) from their own governments. Meaning from the taxpayers: governments do not own a cent of what they give away to causes they consider worthy of their attention.

Speaking of which, it took three decades to pay off the 1976 summer extravaganza in Montreal. Domestic sponsorship amounted to $7 million. The debt: $1.5 billion. With interest payments included, the final amount was staggering.

If you think it would take less time to pay off the debt generated by the Vancouver Olympics of 2010, think again. The British Columbia government is trying its utmost, taxing everything its citizens consume or use (including the air, by the way), and yet …

Living better?

Speaking of something Olympic supporters call “improving the overall quality of life,” here are a few stimulating numbers. Since the 1980s, economists have estimated the Games have displaced over three million people. They have also contributed to massive increases in homelessness. In a study compiled in connection with the 2012 Olympics in London, England, economists cite Vancouver as one of the prime examples.

To quote directly: “This has contributed significantly to gentrification, securitisation and surveillance in the host cities.”

Do you think these changes have come about without any cost? And do you think local organizers have included these costs in their budgets? Yet, the money had to come from somewhere.

Where? You’re allowed three guesses. A hint: look at yourself in a mirror.

Some economic analysts would go so far as to suggest the entire event ought to be renamed from Olympic to Corporate Games. Judging by the number of sundry business deals, they seem to have a point. Still, considering how much public money goes into the entire hoopla, the games would be better served if they were called Fascist Games. Why? Simply because fascism happens to be a brand of socialism that combines state intervention and corporationism.

The IOC’s official site, (www.olympic.org) proudly tells the world about the movement’s marketing achievements. It doesn’t dwell on the history of scandals driven by pure greed. It avoids mentioning the percentage of public money that goes into staging events that each demand new and newer and newest facilities, in a perfectly and shortsightedly stupid competition to hear the IOC president saying these were the best games ever as he closes yet another extravaganza.

To quote the British analysts one more time:

Late 1990s – corruption nearly destroyed the IOC and many people were expelled. For example, in 1999 there was widespread bribery going on in the IOC regarding the decision to give the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City. An investigation lead to ten IOC members being expelled or resigning. Since this period of scandals that nearly brought down the IOC, it has improved its PR, but any issues that do arise are pretty much left unchecked by the mainstream press.

2008 – The Beijing Games saw displacement on a massive scale and a pre-Olympics systematic round-up of political activists, involving imprisoning, beating and torturing dissenters, showing that the Games continue to facilitate and reinforce repression wherever they go, yet the IOC still pretends to be apolitical.

2012 – The London Games have seen pre-emptive arrests and evictions across London and protests being held in July against, amongst other issues, the failure of the IOC to take action against the discrimination of women athletes, corporate sponsorship, mass surveillance and the restriction of the right to protest that the Host City Contract enforces.”

If you wish to get more details, get C.A. Shaw’s book titled Five-Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games, read it, and weep.

To find out even more, check out works by British journalist Andrew Jennings. He was the co-author of The Lords of the Rings and author of The New Lords of the Rings.

Missing billions

And lest you think anything has changed for the better since then, here’s an unsurprising tidbit: about $30 billion (in US money) of the about $50 billion designated for the Sochi games has gone AWOL. If anybody has seen it, nobody’s saying.

Thus former Russian cabinet minister and now opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Together with an outspoken opponent of the Kremlin (meaning: president Vladimir Putin, his cohorts, and all their works) Leonid Martynyuk, Nemtsov said he tried to check all of the numbers, and $30 billion was missing.

“The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi have turned into a monstrous scam,” the Nemtsov-Martynyuk report said.

Considering Putin has been on record recently as saying he was frustrated over the rising costs of the Games, this is a strange coincidence, indeed.

The Sochi games are now on track to become the most expensive event in Olympic history, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reports.

Here’s more from that same British paper: “The money is supposed to be spent on the construction of new Sochi sports facilities as well as the repair of everything from roads and hotels to the laying of new railways and the creation of a bullet train system.

“Almost all of the projects have been assigned to giant firms that are either directly owned by the government or run by billionaires who are on close terms with the Kremlin.

“The two authors wrote that their conclusions came from a six-month study of data and analysis of various cost overruns.

“They said they also compared these overruns with those seen in previous Olympic Games to estimate how much was in fact embezzled by senior managers at the various firms,” the paper added.

The Nemtsov-Martynyuk report comes to a conclusion that was to be expected: “The Olympic Games are Putin’s personal project. And it is clear who stole this money – those who are close to that same Putin.”

Now, Nemtsov has been known for his critical observations, and it comes as no surprise, either, that the Kremlin – while remaining silent on the most recent report – keeps insisting that Nemtsov relies on hearsay and speculation too much for his own good.

Of course, this is a country that gave birth to the following bit of wisdom: do NOT believe any rumours until they’ve been officially denied.

And Nemtsov himself admitted that he was hard-pressed to find actual government data for his latest study because information about contracts remained largely secret, the Daily Telegraph reports.

No matter how much of the $50 billion that was budgeted for the Sochi games was spent legally or stolen, Russian analysts took the lowest figure ($20 billion) and came up with interesting results: that lowest amount would be enough to build a new school, a new hospital, and a new community sports centre in 20 Russian cities each.

What is more useful? Another rhetorical question.

Role models?

Yes, Olympic supporters would tell you, yes, sure, not everything is as rosy as many thought it would (or could, or should, even) be, but still, Olympic champions attract youngsters to sports. More youngsters doing sports means a healthier nation.

Certainly. Compared to the inescapable fact that youth obesity has been growing in leaps and bounds all over the North American continent, the logical question pops up: Oh yeah?

The only thing the Olympic Games cause is a dangerous increase in jingoistic nationalism. A group of well-paid athletes defeat another group of well-paid athletes, and the victors’ nation goes literally bonkers.

By the way, have you ever noticed? When it’s your country’s team that wins, everybody identifies with it and says: WE WON! When they happen to lose, it’s: THOSE GOOD-FOR-NOTHING (lazy bums, whatever, choose your insult) LOST.

In any case, while it is questionable whether the Olympic Games ever meant more than the simple “bread and games” for the masses of the unwashed, it is now perfectly obvious: the Olympic Games are a waste of time and money, pure and simple.

You could hardly expect the mighty of the world to give the Olympic Games up. They are becoming richer with every passing Olympian cycle, after all. Giving up the Olympic Games would equal killing the goose that lays golden eggs.

So, is there a solution? Of course there is.

Given how many athletes use all kinds of performance-enhancing products (how many of them dope, to put it simply), the Olympic movement should stop forthwith rolling their eyes in a staged show of horror and disbelief. And, again, speaking of tarnishing the cleanliness of the classic ancient Greek Olympiad is a perfect lie: those guys used doping to an extent that would be shocking even in today’s lax times.

Here’s the plan: drop the national Olympic committees with their shameless feeding off their countries’ taxpayers.

Drop the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius, Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger.”

Here’s the replacement: put the Olympic Games into the hands of pharmaceutical companies, and the motto would be: “My drugs are better than yours, nyanyanyanahnah.”

Cynical? Absolutely. Truthful? Absolutely, too.

Dilemma of Olympian proportions: run it as planned or scrap it altogether?

Russian police know the names of the two suicide bombers who exploded themselves and a number of innocent bystanders in Volgograd last December. They have also arrested two people who, they say, were accomplices.

Nothing is going to happen to Asker Samedov and Suleiman Magomedov any longer. These two have been having their fun with heaven-based virgins since last December.

The killers have allegedly come to Russia proper from the Caucasian republic of Dagestan.

But, here’s a twist. Dagestan just happens to be a member of the Russian Federation. Russian president Vladimir Putin can claim the law of retribution meted out to any and all perpetrators’ families is valid in Dagestan, too. Who cares that Dagestan is a republic, with its own government and its own parliament?

If the Russians send a group of highly-trained cutthroats in and we find out somewhat later that both families have been wiped out, and so has been everything they had ever owned, one can anticipate some kind of an international outcry.

Raise your hand if you think the Russians will care. After all, when Western governments were looking askance at atrocities committed by the Russians in Chechnya, they received a brief message from the Kremlin: we’re defending not only ourselves, but you, too, from the green danger. That danger, thus described, stands for Islam.

And that was the end of the rhetoric. From both sides. Embarrassed silence from the West, “I-told-you-so” silence from Moscow.

Brothers Magomednabi and Tagir Batirov, arrested (and described) by Russian security forces as accomplices, helped the now-late attackers of Volgograd with their travel plans. Thus reports from Russia. How they have done it, the reports do not say. But you can bet your last coin that Russian security interrogators will make these two sing. They will name people who have never heard of Volgograd or the militant Islamist group known as Shariat Jamaat. They will tell all within the first few days of captivity. Methods used against the Al-Quaeda or the Taliban in, say, Guantanamo, are kindergarten sports when compared to what Russian interrogators are capable of using (and perfectly willing to use).

Should anybody think people killing innocent civilian bystanders deserve humane treatment and mention an iota of concern, derision all the way from the Red Square will be the answer they’ll get.

But this is not the real topic.

Debate off the rails

The real topic is that, instead of debating potential winners and losers in individual sporting events, everybody and their dog has been debating terrorist dangers that hang over the Sochi games like the sword of Damocles.

The Russians have introduced security measures that, to some, border on the insane. Whether they succeed and the Olympic Games end without a hitch, well, let’s hope they do. Except: to arrive at the Adler International Airport and find you’ve landed in a region under siege, well, that does not enhance anybody’s celebratory mood.

Even that well-known optimist, Jaromír Jágr, has succumbed to fatalism. The Czech hockey star told Russian newspaper Sovetskii Sport in an interview that nobody has much control over their destiny. “We die when the time comes for us to die,” the paper quoted Jágr as saying.

“If they want to do something,” Jágr went on, speaking about the Islamist insurgents, “they will. There’s going to be many people in Sochi, journalists in particular, and they would write about the attack. Except, things like that can happen anywhere, at any Olympic Games, at any championships. Doesn’t matter if it’s Russia, the United States, or any other country,” he concluded.

Jágr didn’t mention the early September of 1972 and the Munich Olympic Games tragedy. Arab militants managed to get into Israeli athletes’ quarters in the Olympic village. What followed was mayhem and a number of deaths on both sides.

The Olympic village was supposed to be the best-guarded spot in the entire Olympic complex in Munich.

Still, Jágr is optimistic: “I think the entire Russia and Putin himself are so proud of their country, they’ll do whatever it takes to make the games secure. They’ve been waiting for these games since 1980, that’s long enough. I believe they’ll do their best.”

Nice of Jágr to remember the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Following Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, then-U.S. president Jimmy Carter first said then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev must have misled him. Carter, you see, asked Brezhnev during a meeting in Vienna whether the Soviets would invade Afghanistan. Brezhnev put his most honest face on and said: What? We? Invade an independent country? Never!

This unmitigated skulduggery would upset Carter no end. In a voice dripping with solemnity, he would order a U.S. boycott of the Moscow games and impose an embargo on U.S. wheat exports to the Soviet Union. Most western countries would toe the line so far as the Olympic boycott was concerned. So far as the wheat exports went, not only would it not have an immediate impact on Soviet economy (the embargo held for future trades), but other countries, Canada chief among them, would pick up the slack. For the record, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was Canada’s prime minister at the time.

And the Soviets retaliated in kind: they (and their allies) would boycott the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

That’s as close as politics would publicly get to the Olympic Games. That the entire business case a.k.a. Olympic Games is as political as anything can get is another issue for another day.

But now, we have politics out in the open. And politics of violence, at that.

When muses speak, weapons fall silent?

Or is it the other way ’round? The original words by Cicero himself say so: Silent enim leges inter arma. Meaning laws are suspended in the clatter of weapons.

Those who love the idea of Olympism are wont to quote the perfectly and innocently naive idea that there should be peace in the valley while the games are on.

Fine. Just imagine: the Sochi zone has been cordoned off from the rest of Russia by now. The demarcation line extends 100 kilometres from the Black Sea coast and a further 40 kilometres into Russian mainland. No vehicles other than those with special permits (local residents require permits, too) are allowed in. Numerous checkpoints throughout the city and its environs will be making sure that only authorized passengers (that is: passengers with another set of proper permits) are sitting in cars they will be letting through. The border with the neighbouring Georgian region of Abkhasia has been closed. Of course, it depends on whom you’re listening to. The Russians claim they’ve sealed Abkhasia off completely. The Abkhasians only smirk and shrug, hinting nobody can seal them off behind an invisible line in the Caucasian mountains.

But who’s the foe, anyway?

One of the main issues: the Russians do not know whom to lash at first. Most of the people in the entire region hate them profoundly. The Russians are now harvesting what they’d been sowing for a few centuries. Locals are now pushing back. And it doesn’t matter at all whether the area around the main hockey arena in Sochi used to be a burial ground for the proudly dead Muslim soldiers or not. It doesn’t matter, even, whether those of today’s insurgents’ leaders who claim it for a fact, believe in it themselves. It just happens to be one more neuralgic point.

What should the Russians do? Yield to the Islamist insurgents? Or should the Islamist insurgents accept that they’d lost their war a couple of centuries ago, nothing doing?

Neither scenario is viable. You just can’t re-write history. If you tried to, it would logically take you to the question of who’d been in Canada BEFORE the arrival of the First Nations on the scene, a question not many have dared ask, and even fewer attempted to answer.

The easiest and fairest solution would have been for the international community to admit that Olympic Games as a celebration of sports is a sham, and has been a sham all along. Except, it has become a business that helps line way too many pockets of the mighty.

And, besides, in the situation of Sochi, scrapping the Olympic Games would have meant surrender, nay, capitulation.

We can only cross our fingers now for the security of the Olympic Games and ignore the challenge for Team Canada to repeat as gold medal winners.

In fact, this is the only thing we can do.

As it is, it’s 1 for the Islamist insurgents of all stripes and colours, and 0 for the rest of the world.

Dagestani insurgents claim responsibility for Volgograd attacks, vow to disrupt Olympics

One day before the Olympic torch was to arrive at Volgograd Monday, two Russian-speaking men, machine guns at hand, appeared in a video on the Internet, claiming responsibility for recent suicide attacks in Volgograd and promising that there were more assaults to come in Sochi during the Olympic games.

Last December’s terrorist atacks at Volgograd cost at least 34 innocent lives.

Now, it is the Vilayat Dagestan group that says its members carried out the attacks.

Vilayat Dagestan has been trying to establish a Muslim state in the northern part of the Caucasus mountains.

The two men in the video present so much detail from the two attacks, it leaves Russian investigators with two options. Either somebody leaked the details, an option they consider implausible, or the Dagestani movement has been indeed involved right from the start and its two spokesmen know exactly whereof they speak.

In any case, what the two men had to say contradicts what the Russian police probe has considered the most probable course of events.

Shortly after the train station attack, police were convinced a so-called “Black Widow” named Oksana Aslanov was the culprit. The 26-year-old had been married twice, in both cases to Caucasian separatists, and both of her husbands died in battles with Russian security forces. Russian police found Aslanov’s body parts close to the spot where the bomb had gone off. They hypothesized Aslanov was stopped by security at the train station entrance and seeing she wouldn’t be able to get through, she exploded the bomb she was trying to carry into the station. If she managed to get any further, they said, the toll would have been much higher.

Russian investigators also suspected another person, a 32-year-old former nurse Pavel Pechonkin. The Central Russia native has been suspected of being a part of a terrorist group in Dagestan. According to this theory, an officer stopped him by the security gate at the station, whereupon Pechonkin pulled the trigger.

The two Vilayat Dagestan spokesmen wouldn’t say specifically who the suicide murderers were. They would limit themselves to saying two basic things: it was their group that masterminded the attacks, and it was their group that has a few surprise gifts in store for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In an almost hour-long video, they said (in verbatim translation from the Russian language): “If you stage this Olympiad, we shall give you a present for all that innocent Muslim blood shed all over the world, in Afghanistan, Somalia or Syria. … And we will have presents for tourists who come there, too.”

The two Dagestani spokesmen also said their attacks heeded earlier calls by Doku Umarov, the self-proclaimed Emir (Prince) of the Northern Caucasus region. Russians have considered Umarov a major threat the last 15 years but, according to Chechen president Razym Kadyrov, Umarov was killed recently by what he termed were “Russian agents.”

Kadyrov said he based his statement on intercepted communications between two North Caucasian insurgents who had been debating Umarov’s succession.

Quite understandably, Russian government officials would neither confirm nor deny Kadyrov’s revelation.

Precautions galore

Russian authorities would not, again, very understandably, comment on what security measures they are introducing (or have already introduced)n in Sochi and its environs. Of course, some of them have become obvious right from the start. Thorough searches of anyone entering the area, including whatever they happen to be carrying along, have become regular occurrence. And Russian government’s official newspaper, Rossiyskaia gazeta, has published a few edicts that seem to show the authorities’ ways of thinking.

For example: whoever happens to see anything that seems to look suspicious (no matter how) must inform the nearest security authorities immediately. No face covers are allowed, either.

If you wish to distribute any political or religious literature anywhere, including the venues, you’re out of luck. It’s forbidden.

If you wish to display banners or flags, there is no political or extremist propaganda, commercial advertising or foul language allowed. Who decides what is extremist or foul? Why, government officials, that’s who.

If you are a fan who comes from abroad to cheer her or his country’s athletes on, and intend to use a banner or a flag to do so, you will require a notarized translation into the Russian language to get permission to display your signs of allegiance anywhere. Not only that: a fire department’s certificate confirming your signs of fandom aren’t flammable will be a must, too.

Remember the vuvuzelas (a.k.a. lepatata Mambu in its original Tswana language)? Those were the 65-centimere-long horns used during the recent world cup of soccer in South Africa. Emitting a pretty loud sound (it would be difficult to say it was music), the vuvuzelas will not be allowed in the Sochi Olympic venues. Also off-limits: banners bigger than two metres by a meter-and-a-half. Speaking of which: rods to carry the flags or banners on are limited to 150 centimetres in length.

If you want an exception, you’ve got to ask for it at least two days ahead of the date you want to use it, and there’s no guarantee you’re going to get it. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed you won’t.

Beverage containers that hold more than half a litre of beverage are banned. And security will check whether the fluid contained in the bottle is potable or not. How? We’re supposed to wait and see.

Another couple of hints: there’s no need to carry too much cash on you. In fact, it’s outright dangerous to carry much (never mind too much) cash around. Also, just as they like to say in the airports: keep a constant and vigilant eye on all your belongings. And avoid photographing military or otherwise strategic sites. Based on personal experience, don’t expect warning signs telling you this is a military or otherwise strategic site, either.

The Olympic Games must succeed without a hitch, president Putin has decreed.

Whether the Northern Caucasian Muslim insurgents will obey, now, that’s another matter altogether.

Will money buy safety in Sochi?

The budget for upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, exceeds $50 billion (all amounts in U.S. currency). Of that, about 60 to 70 per cent would fall victim to widespread corruption and theft, an influential Russian journalist Julia Latynina estimates.

The budgeted amount for security of the games exceeds $2 billion. Judging by recent developments, the $2 billion is bare minimum, and the final amount is going to be much higher.

The main issue is whether even that will suffice. Why? Simply because there exist powerful groups that have been of the view that Sochi is not a Russian city in the first place, and that the games are being staged in a territory that was stolen from them. And they plan to do something about it. What something? They are perfectly open: they plan to commit sundry terrorist acts to make these games unforgettable, if not the best in history, as the usual formula at closing ceremonies has it.

Some would say it’s not terrorism. These people are fighting for what’s rightfully theirs.

Let’s put that argument (the one that asks whose country is it, anyway) aside. Other than that, endangering innocent civilian bystanders matches the accepted definition of terrorism with chilling precision.

For comparison sake: the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $6 billion (or more, but – apparently – not more than $10 billion). Vancouver’s original budget called for cost of about $2 billion. Except that budget calculation, resulting from the sheer genius of creative accounting, had been wrong all along.

In any case, the Sochi budget is close to the perfectly abominable cost of the 2008 summer games in Beijing, China (and the 2012 summer games in London). Keep in mind, too, that summer games are several times bigger (and more expensive) than their winter counterparts. So, even accounting for theft and corruption, the Russians will end up paying through their noses for quite some time to come.

No wonder, then, that they are getting somewhat nervous about the terrorist threat. The threat is real.

While intelligence experts are not rushing to link the two suicide-bombers’ attacks that happened earlier this year in Volgograd (earlier Stalingrad, and Tsaritsyn even before that), they wouldn’t say there’s no link, either. With Russian president Vladimir Putin ordering that Russian security forces (from the police to special army units a.k.a. Spetznaz) make their presence known in Sochi, intelligence and security experts fear he had stripped some other Russian centres of proper defences. Only future will tell whether they are right or not.

Leaked figures indicate there will be 42,000 police at Sochi, plus 10,000 armed Interior Ministry officials, plus 23,000 heavily armed Emergency Ministry personnel, to be stationed in border area mountains. The number of Spetznaz people has remained secret thus far. These professionally trained thugs have made their presence known by closing off Sochi to most incoming traffic on January 7, with one month to go to opening ceremonies.

An interesting gallery

Doku Umarov is the name cited by most experts. According to most reports, Umarov calls himself the leader (Emir) of what he describes as the Caucasian Emirate. The entity includes regions in the northern parts of the Caucasus Mountains, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, plus several other, smaller tribes.

While his overall goal is to gain independence for the territory, his immediate objective is to disrupt the Olympic Games and give Russia and its president a black eye to end all black eyes.

If he hopes the Russians would scrub the games before their opening, he would be too optimistic (and naïve), several intelligence experts agree: Putin has invested way too much, not only financially, but also of his personal prestige, in the games. There’s no stopping him other than a widespread calamity, if anything at all. Experts doubt Umarov has the wherewithal to cause anything close to a general calamity. Disruptions? May be. But forcing Russia on its knees? Highly doubtful. Of course, if there are civilian victims, they would quite obviously ignore this fine line between general outbreak of hostilities and individual terrorist acts. Still, who cares about individual victims? Nobody in Mother Russia does. Their motto claims there’s a lot of them (nas mnogo).

Umarov claims the games are going to be staged in places that he describes as burial grounds of millions of innocent Muslims killed in the wars with Russia. Historical data confirms that at least eight million indigenous people died in these wars during the 19th century alone. Umarov told the world it’s his movement’s goal to prevent this sacrilege, using “all the means that Allah permits us to use.”

And here it gets murky.

Ramzan Kadyrov, an incredibly successful bandit-turned-politician and today’s leader of Chechnya, claims Umarov has been dead for years, if not decades. Kadyrov hasn’t offered more proof than his own word, and a new video featuring Umarov seems to contradict his statement.

Not so fast, warn intelligence analysts: the newly-emerged video never mentions Sochi or the Olympic Games. It could have been made years ago for all they know.

Russian intelligence claim they have unearthed a weapons cache that belongs to Umarov’s people. It was somewhere in the Caucasus. Not many know if this was the only weapons cache Umarov’s people had, and even fewer people know whether some of the insurgents’ weapons had been transferred to Sochi for safekeeping long time ago.

To sum up: Russian intelligence claim to have found one weapons cache. That’s all.

Russian intelligence people say they’re not sure Umarov, if he still exists, would be able to mount a large-scale operation to penetrate Sochi and wreak havoc upon the games, once there. They dismiss him as a guy capable of not much more than training new cutthroats. That, they do at their own peril.

And yes, there’s Kadyrov, a bosom friend with French artist Gérard Depardieu, who claims Umarov’s a non-entity.

But if not Umarov, is there anybody else?

Turns out the answer is yes.

Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev, the two Chechen strategists who would have been able to stage spectacular assaults anywhere their hearts desired, have met their maker some time ago. These two guys did groom successors. One such name: Aslanbek Vadalov. Certainly, according to some reports, Vadalov and Umarov hate each other’s guts. They are not on speaking terms, even. Except, again, how do we know whether Umarov is still alive? And how do we know the rumours about their distinct lack of chuminess toward one another are true?

Meanwhile, Rusian intelligence people, working off the premise that Umarov is alive and well, claim he asked for and received reinforcements of well-trained fighters with experience from Afghanistan and Syria.

Sporting tradition?

The North-Caucasian anti-Russian groups like sports events as grounds to stage their attacks.

Ramzan Kadyrov’s own dad Akhmad, perished when a bomb exploded right under his bottom during a soccer game. It was quite skillfully built into the presidential seat at a stadium at Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.

Whether former Russian security service (FSB) chief Nikolai Patrushev was only mischievous, trying to sow discord amongst the Chechens, not many know. He said for the record that judging by the placement of the bomb, Kadyrov’s people (at least, some of them) had to know about the assasination plan.

This wasn’t the only such attack against a government official. Khachim Shogenov, Interior Minister in the Cabardian-Balcar Republic escaped with injuries, when a bomb exploded under his seat during a soccer game.

What’s going to happen?

Some intelligence experts say the entire media coverage has been designed to scare the Russians enough so they call the Olympic Games off. Others suggest that to achieve that goal, the insurgents may throw in a suicide bombing attack here and there, within safe distance from Sochi, just to add some fear to the general atmosphere. These experts use the Volgograd attacks as an example.

Here’s the issue: Putin has staked his integrity, his legend that he happens to be a capable leader, exactly what the doctor ordered for his country, on these Olympic Games. He’s obsessed. To him, Sochi has become synonymous with showing the world the progress Mother Russia has made under his guidance and leadership.

The question is not whether it is worth spending all that money. The question is whether Putin is not only aware of the proper and correct answer but whether he would be willing to act upon it – if he is aware of the implications, that is.

Yes, most of the billions has gone down the drain by now, but still …

By now, security measures as ordered by Putin, himself a former high-ranking KGB officer with experience in espionage and personal security, have reached shocking proportions.

No car is allowed into town without a proper permit. Those permits are being made using some high-technology tools. They would be impossible to fake. In theory, at least.

Besides, on Putin’s personal orders, all construction workers had to leave their sites a month before the opening of the games. If they obey this order, many venues would be left unfinished. Still, orders are orders, and orders coming directly from Putin have this unshakeable character of finality, Russian journalists say. Asked what’s going to happen if the construction workers obey and some venues are not ready by the opening day, February 7, they only laughed: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Another special order has subdivided Sochi into several special zones.

The city that runs more than 100 kilometres along the Black Sea coast, now features areas where locals would have terrible difficulty getting to their homes. Especially if they are unlucky enough to live anywhere close to the Olympic village and any of the venues.

The Sochi National Park is off limits for everybody, and so is the border region close to the Abkhasia territory within the Republic of Georgia.

In addition, anyone wishing to gather in public for a demonstration or any other such objective, has to get a permission in advance from the security service (FSB). This neatly includes everything, including whatever gathering supporters of alternative sexual orientations had in mind. There go the gay pride parades whose specific ban had so many in the West so stirred. Putin’s decree did not include the famous Latin saying that tres faciunt collegium (meaning: three makes company), but one is beginning to wonder.

Besides, at least seven thousand specialized personnel took part in an extraordinary exercise how to handle saving hostages in a hospital. Whether this is based upon he experience of Chechen rebels taking over a hospital in Budyonnyi in 1995, who knows, but some intelligence experts said they could foresee a mass hostage situation with the hostage takers demanding that the Olympic Games be abandoned forthwith or they will kill all those innocent bystanders.

A couple of those analysts said they were not sure Putin would permit abandoning the games even if it cost a few hundred hostage lives.

Which brings us to a somewhat shocking finding: the person responsible to Putin personally for all matters concerning the security of the Sochi Olympic Games is Oleg Syromolotov. Intelligence analysts say he might be good in the field of counter-intelligence, but has got no practical experience in countering terrorism whatsoever.

But that’s logical, at least two intelligence sources said: Putin likes governing by decree, and having got the opportunity to do so, he would use any screwdriver available to tighten the screws on Russia and Russians everywhere, not only in Sochi.

“How many such chances is he going to get?” asked one of these experts rather cynically.

Who cares about Olympic medals, be they gold, silver or bronze? People will spend their time in Sochi in fear, hoping they’re going to survive.

And that has been the terrorists’ objective to begin with.