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Mark of success for Sochi will be that it is sport making the headlines

The opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics takes place today and, if we're lucky, it will mark the beginning of a fortnight dominated by sport.

Putin addresses the 126th session of the IOC ahead of the start of the Games.
Putin addresses the 126th session of the IOC ahead of the start of the Games.

Considering what has happened in the run-up to the 22nd Winter Olympic Games, however, this seems like a forlorn hope. The event has been mired in controversy for some years, with the negativity reaching a crescendo in the past few months.

Russia has previously hosted just one Olympics, in Moscow in 1980, so it was of little surprise when Sochi defeated Salzburg in Austria and Pyeongchang, South Korea, seven years ago for the right to host the 2014 Winter Games. The Russian bid was particularly compelling due to the strong political support it was afforded. As the Games have approached, though, it has become clear sport and the athletes are not top of the agenda.

The negative press surrounding these Games and, in particular, President Vladimir Putin, has been impossible to ignore. That it is being staged in this part of Russia at all is the first concern. The Black Sea resort of Sochi is next to the volatile Caucasus region and it has been suggested Putin specifically chose it in order to showcase his regime's strength in an area where dissident Chechens, Circassians, Dagestanis and Ingush are active.

Thirty-four people were killed in two separate suicide bombings one day apart in December in Volgograd, the gateway to the Northern Caucasus.

Professor Mark Galeotti of New York University, an expert in Russian security affairs, has claimed a terrorist attack during the Games is "inevitable", and even Russian security chiefs believe it is virtually certain some kind of incident will occur.

Some 37,000 police officers and soldiers have been sent to Sochi, meaning it is likely the athletes will be safe - Putin will do everything in his power to ensure that is the case - but an attack need not be in the vicinity of Sochi itself to damage the Games. It is impossible to guard against all eventualities and every Olympics is a magnet for terrorism.

Other issues have included the cost of the Games and claims of corruption. The bill for staging the event was originally put at £9bn - similar to the cost of London 2012 -but that has ballooned to an estimated £30bn, more than the previous 21 Winter Olympics combined. Boris Nemtsov, a former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, has been a vocal critic of Sochi. He has called the Games "a festival of corruption" and "an unprecedented thieves' caper" and alleges more than half of the budget is unaccounted for, having disappeared in bribes, kickbacks and fraud.

It should also be noted Sochi is miles away from any snow or ice, meaning billions had to be spent artificially creating the necessary environment. Then there has been the furore over Russia's decision to pass anti-gay laws forbidding "gay propaganda towards children", which has fuelled a wave of homophobic attacks, and allegations immigrants have been used as labourers. Villages have been damaged and destroyed in the construction process, with the inhabitants of Sochi completely disregarded, and it has been suggested athletes' communications will be monitored to ensure there is no dissent towards Russia.

It is unlikely the IOC took much, if any, of this into account when awarding the Games to Sochi. It is probable they saw only the money on offer. There seems to be a pervading feeling within the IOC that the Olympics Games are untouchable; that they are too big to fail. This is fundamentally not the case.

The Olympics are the IOC's golden goose and must be treated with the respect they deserve. While it is important to spread the magic of the Games all over the world, money must not be the primary factor in choosing a host nation. There must be boundaries, which perhaps now need recalibrated.

Every Olympics is something of a nationalistic convention with particular agendas - London 2012 was not held for altruistic reasons - but the crudest form of politics hijacking sport has been seen in Sochi 2014. There is little doubt the Olympics have a magical quality. They are accompanied by an aura of enchantment unmatched by any other event on the planet. There must be a note of caution though.

Cost, efficiency, nature and human lives have been disregarded to enable the hosting of Sochi 2014 and this has sullied the Olympic brand. The next fortnight will determine whether irreparable damage has been done. The mark of success will be if it is sport, and nothing else, that is making the headlines.

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