The Winter Olympics of 2014 are slated to begin early February, but the the lead up to the athletic events has been highly political, with major issues raised regarding the location of the events, as well as the political and social stances that the Russian government has; LGBT rights and privacy issues, compromised freedom of speech and freedom of the press, terrorism concerns, and accusations of major corruption have all cropped up in recent weeks.
Now, an anti-corruption activist and former candidate for Moscow’s Mayor, Alexei Navalny, has created a website inundated with accusations that Russia used twice as much money as should have been required in order to set up its Sochi Winter Olympics. Navalny says on his site that, “Athletes are not the only people who compete in Sochi. Officials and businessmen also took part in the games and turned them into a source of income.”
The Associated Press points out that Russia has put approximately $51 billion into the Sochi Winter Olympics, and that this amounts to the most money spent on the Olympic games, despite the fact that the winter games have fewer athletes to host than the summer games. On top of that, a 2012 Audit Chamber report stated that the games for Sochi had gone around $500 million over reasonable costs for the set up. In a TV interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that, “If anybody has got this information, please show this to us. But so far we haven’t seen anything except speculation,” as reported by the Associated Press.
Another hot issue being discussed deals with both Russia’s Law — approved by Putin in June — that outlaws the public display of gay “propaganda” around minors. This legislation has resulted in outcry from LGBT rights organizations internationally, provoking concerns from some that the Olympic ceremonies might be used as a platform on which to object to such policy choices.
Dmitry Chernyshenko, the Sochi committee president for organizing the games, has said recently that he did not believe athletes would be allowed to discuss any issues not related to sporting events at official Olympic press conferences. He was corrected by the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who said that this was not correct. “The Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee would like to clarify comments attributed to Dmitry Chernyshenko yesterday concerning athletes being able to express themselves during press conferences. Sochi 2014 are fully aligned with the position of the International Olympic Committee,” said the committee, according to the Associated Press.
Bach spoke with Press on Monday, and according to the Associated Press, said that, “It’s very clear that the games cannot be used as a stage for political demonstrations. The IOC will take, if necessary, individual decisions based on the individual case. On the other hand, the athletes, of course, enjoy the freedom of speech. So, if in a press conference they want to make a political statement, then they are absolutely free to do so.”
Chernyshenko has also said that game organizers had made a “Speaker’s Corner” in Sochi, or a protest zone. Recently, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a special report on censorship of the press surrounding Olympic coverage, stating that certain relevant news items have purposefully gone uncovered — including migrant worker exploitation, forced evictions, and environmental destruction.