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US State Department issues terror warning for Sochi games

A terror travel alert was issued Saturday by the US State Department for the Sochi Olympics, ABC News reported.

The last few months leading up to the games, slated to begin Feb. 7, have seen three suicide bombings with dozens killed, raising fears of terrorist attacks at the Olympics, Fox News reported.

The State Department said the Russians are refusing US help in securing the games, leading to even greater concern for terrorist activity.

Citizens should stay away from large crowds and use caution if any demonstrations take place, the State Department alert said.

In light of this latest development, the question of whether it is wise to send athletes at all should be discussed.

There are 6,000 athletes from 85 countries slated to participate, CNN reported. That includes 224 from the United States, the largest contingent, and 222 from Canada, the second largest, reported Wikipedia.

The reasons to stay home and not participate in the games, scheduled Feb. 7-23, are compelling.

First, take a look at who is not going.

For the first time since 2000, the United States will not send a president, former president, first lady or even vice president to the games, AP reported on FortWayne.com. Janet Napolitano, former secretary of Homeland Security, will lead the American delegation.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also said he will skip Sochi, the Globe and Mail reported.

In both cases, the reason given is the anti-gay stance of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The US and Canada made a point of sending gay athletes to the games.

But in view of the violence occurring in the lead up to Sochi, it is conceivable that both countries fear it will be impossible to protect its leaders, particularly President Barack Obama.

CNN reported Thursday that 25,000 police officers are to be deployed, plus another 8,000 security forces from various agencies. They are to protect the 6,000 athletes, plus 1,650 Paralympians, as well as delegates from other countries and spectators.

But consider this:

Six men where found dead in four cars and explosive devices were placed outside three of vehicles, although only one bomb went off and no one was hurt, the AP reported Thursday. All were in the volatile Caucasus Mountains area where Islamic insurgency is a constant threat.

This follows two suicide bombings late last month in Volgogard, ABC reported. Thirty-four were killed and many more wounded. Sochi is about 200 miles from the trouble spot.

But Napolitano pointed out that there were safety concerns in 2012 for the Summer Olympics, too.

“If you recall, before London (England), there was all this discussion of security in London,” she told the AP.

There is no doubt athletes want to go to the games. They train hard, and there is generally a window of only a few years in the life of an elite athlete. The Winter Olympics are only held every four years.

But then there is the side effect of fearing the terrorists, to the extent that it emboldens them.

Still, the question is whether sport should be put ahead of safety.

If the worst happens, skier Lindsey Vonn may come to see her knee injury not as bad luck, but good.

Sources:

USA Today, Vonn’s Knee: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/sochi/2014/01/07/lindsey-vonn-missing-2014-winter-olympics-sochi/4353191/

CNN, Sochi Facts: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/08/world/europe/russia-sochi-numbers/?hpt=isp_t2

Wikipedia, Number of Athletes at Games: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Winter_Olympics

FortWayne.com/AP: http://www.fortwayne.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140107/AP02/301079997/1032/TOPSPORTS

Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/harper-and-obama-to-skip-sochi-winter-olympics/article16045167/

ABC News/AP: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/russia-men-found-dead-cars-21472021