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Georgia Asks For 2014 Sochi Games To Be Moved, For Athlete's Security

Posters with the logo of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
(RFE/RL) -- Officials on Georgia's National Olympic Committee -- supported by more than a dozen Georgian Olympic champions -- have said that the 2014 Winter Olympics should be withdrawn from the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The situation, they say, is too dangerous. The Games, they believe, should be moved to a safer place for the sake of athlete's security.

The announcement comes three months after the Russia-Georgia war, which began in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia but expanded into another separatist region, Abkhazia, whose border lies less than 30 kilometers from Sochi.

It's not the first attempt to try and move the Sochi Games.

In September, two U.S. representatives, Bill Shuster and Allyson Schwartz, introduced a nonbinding resolution in Congress, calling on the International Olympic Committee to punish Moscow for its actions in Georgia by finding a new venue for the 2014 Games.

Historical Precedents

There are precedents for moving, or canceling, the Olympic Games.

Two world wars meant there were no Summer Olympics in 1916, and no Summer or Winter Olympics in 1940 or 1944.

Early on in modern Olympic history, games were moved from the city or country originally chosen as host.

"One of the reasons that various sites have taken on the Games at very short notice has been that the previous city or country has suddenly found, for political or financial reasons, it just couldn't cope," says Olympic historian Stanley Greenberg. "But that is where they themselves have said, 'We just can't do this.' "

The 1904 Games, for example, were moved from Chicago to St. Louis to coincide with the World's Fair held there that year.

And London took on the 1908 Games originally intended for Rome.

"Vesuvius erupted [and] the Italian government was suddenly hit by tremendous costs and they just couldn't cope with it," Greenberg says. "And therefore they said, 'We can't cope with this. Could someone else take it over?' "

Unsuccessful Attempts

There have been other, unsuccessful, attempts to move the Games over the years.

In 2001, a member of the IOC suggested the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics be moved, as the United States was a country at war, in Afghanistan. They went ahead as planned.

In 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter asked the IOC to move the Moscow Games to another city, such as Montreal -- or to Greece. But the Moscow Games went ahead, though under a U.S.-led boycott.

The Olympic charter allows for the Games to be withdrawn from a host city, if it is in breach of its obligations. But such a move would have weighty consequences.

There would be the cost to the host country -- financially, as well as in lost prestige.

Would another city be ready to step in at -- in Olympic terms -- short notice?

Greenberg says criticisms and questions accompany the run-up to every Olympic Games. But he says "only World War III" could lead to the IOC changing a venue.

'I Would Be Very Surprised'

And he says an appeal now, six years ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics' scheduled start, lacks the urgency of one made amid a looming, large-scale conflict.

"Such a long gap and what appears to be a local dispute between Georgia and Russia -- whereas in 1940 everyone realized it was going to be a much bigger thing than anything local -- it would be looked at in that light," Greenberg says. "I would be very surprised if the IOC did anything about it."

The Georgian National Olympic Committee could raise the issue at the European Olympic Committees general assembly in Istanbul on November 21-22.

Sochi's organizing committee, meanwhile, says preparations are firmly on track.

But just in case, at least one city says it's ready to jump in: Austria's Salzburg, which lost out in previous bids to host the Games.