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A supporter waves a Russian flag in front of the logo of the International Olympic Committee at their headquarters, on Dec. 5, 2017.FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

From the summer of 2001 until this week – that is the period we may in retrospect call the Era of Big Event Diplomacy.

Roughly 21 years ago, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing.

That was the beginning of a peaceful stretch in which glamorous sports events were seen as a tool with which to normalize the conduct of potentially dangerous superpowers.

Before that time, big sports happenings were the exclusive purview of the Western nations that had created them and helped them grow in popularity. The competition was open to all, but only the democratic clique got to share in the real spoils.

When the Soviet Union finally got its shot at the big time with the Summer Games in 1980, most of the other side rescinded their RSVPs.

Only one other 20th-century Olympics (the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia) was held in a communist nation when the IOC chose a country outside the Soviet sphere. So even that handshake drifted upward until it was a thumb looking for an eye.

But after the wall came down, new political realities created new financial opportunities.

China got two Olympics in the 21st century. Russia got an An Olympics and a World Cup. They both got a world athletics championships. Russia got a UEFA Champions League final – the world’s most watched annual sporting event.

The theory seemed sound. Instead of just inviting people to the neighbourhood barbecue, how about asking them to be the host? You’re less likely to bomb the house next door if, a couple of years later, the bombed-out party and all its friends will be spending three weeks sleeping over at your place.

It presumed a level of post-Cold War decorum. All of us living together in our globally integrated economy, too busy making money and having fun to risk upsetting the Big Event rotation.

This week’s invasion of Ukraine has put the lie to the theory.

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The first element of annexation – the Russian takeover of Crimea – happened hours after the end of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Now the second element – total war – happens hours after the end of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

You can see the malign brilliance of this. Everybody wants the party to go on, especially as it nears. So they make excuses for the host: “They’re not so bad. Maybe they’re just misunderstood. Did you see the lovely arena they built for all of us? Let’s give ‘em a chance.”

As the temperature rises, the excuses have to be downloaded onto someone else. No one in charge wants to take responsibility for creating a political tool that has started blowing up whenever you turn it on. The corporations pumping billions into the effort have no interest in geopolitics. In the new world, autocrats buy sneakers too. All the corporations want to do is make sappy ads about how everyone loves their mom and everyone needs oil.

So the politicians step back and the athletes get pushed out front. Sure, it might be right to dwell a little longer on who exactly we are aggrandizing through our games, but think about all the disappointed speed skaters and pole vaulters. Who’s going to tell them they can’t run and jump in a country that won’t respect international norms? How is this their fault?

That’s how Big Events got turned from a Western carrot into a Russian stick.

North Americans and Europeans love their circuses. We love to show off for each other. But circuses are expensive. We no longer felt like paying for them ourselves. So Russia and China stepped in. We got a free party and they got a free pass. It doesn’t look like such a great deal now.

The final freebie was due to land in May – a Champions League final to take place in St. Petersburg. Obviously, that won’t happen now.

According to reports, UEFA will hold an emergency meeting this week to strip Russia of the occasion. It says something that it needs an emergency session on Friday instead of a five-minute phone call on Thursday to pull the plug. Because it had to make sure this is done in accordance with every cancellation clause in the insurance contract. The money comes first, always.

What’s also going out the window this week is a particular way of thinking during a particular moment in history. We thought that giving Russia & Friends access to Western sporting plums would keep them pliant. Clearly, it did the opposite.

When Russia used Olympic cover to move on Ukraine in the first instance, no one in charge seriously considered pulling the World Cup slated for four years later. Not out in public where you could hear them, at least. I guess rescheduling was too much of a hassle.

You know how long it takes to build a new stadium in a union environment? Lemme tell you, my friend – forever. Russia doesn’t have our problems. Let’s leave it to handle its business its way. When it comes down to it, we know people don’t care where the ball is kicked as long as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the ones kicking it.

Assuming you were a warlike despot inclined to view your enemies as decadent and timid, what message would that have sent you?

Ahead of that World Cup, FIFA president Gianni Infantino – arguably the most powerful sports official in the world – filmed a promo in Vladimir Putin’s lavish Kremlin office. The two of them awkwardly kicked a ball around, as middle-aged best buds often do.

Again, were you Putin, what would that have told you?

Using sports as a lure to good behaviour wasn’t a terrible idea, but it became one as soon as corporate interests got involved. Once that happened, any notion that subsequent bad behaviour would be punished was off the table.

Now events will spur a return to the old Western sporting regime – hosting duties for big events open to friendlies only.

What remains to be seen is who will show up at future parties and who’s going to start picking up the cheque.