Sochi Olympics Celebrates Russia Despite Controversy

On Feb. 7, Russia will host the Winter Olympics for the first time in its history. The games will be held in the southern city of Sochi, located on the ...

Feb 1, 2014

On Feb. 7, Russia will host the Winter Olympics for the first time in its history. The games will be held in the southern city of Sochi, located on the Black Sea near the Georgian border. 85 nations and 2,894 athletes are set to compete; both numbers have increased since the 2010 event in Vancouver.
Sochi’s permanent population comes in at just under 350,000, though many laborers, service workers and entrepreneurs are flooding into the city to take part in the booming tourist industry that has arisen in anticipation of the Olympics.
Freshman Dasha Baidakova said that many new businesses — restaurants, hotels and many others in the service sector — have opened in Sochi, thanks to the patronage expected from the games. Her brother has just shifted there to work as the manager of a restaurant, and she said that the booming tourism industry has created an excellent climate for entrepreneurs.
She also believes Sochi is ready for the influx of visitors and is glad that tourists will see a side of Russia that is not necessarily represented by the larger, more populous cities.
“Right now, all the tourists go to either Moscow or St. Petersburg … I’m really glad the Olympics are not in St. Petersburg,” she said.
The problem with hosting the 2014 Games in such a comparatively small city is that the explosion of activity has pushed prices up and nurtured a new local economy that, while booming, is also expensive for its residents.
“They built a lot of new houses there, but they’re barely affordable … it’s not very feasible,” she said.
Senior Oleg Shenderyuk also sees issues with the allocation of spending that has been directed towards the games, though his frustration is with corruption rather than inflation.
“Any project a government does in a country like this, where the government has a lot of involvement in the economy … it’s bound that a lot of money is going to be misspent because there’s a lot of incentive [for corruption],” said Shenderyuk. “There’s a lot of money being misspent.”
Russian newspaper RIA Novosti reports that “allegations of large-scale corruption have dogged preparations for the Sochi Games. Russian officials initially estimated that the Games would cost over $50 billion, making them the most expensive Olympics in the history of the event.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied the accusations, saying in an interview that “he was unaware of any instances of corruption during the construction of Olympic facilities in Sochi and [that] the costs were possibly driven up by contractors.”
The accusations of corruption have come among a storm of controversies, including alleged discrimination against the LGBT community in Russia following the implementation of a law prohibiting “gay propaganda” on June 30 of last year.
Current and past Olympians are urging Russian government officials to reconsider these laws, especially in light of the sixth principle of the Olympic charter which assures non-discrimination to participants. Demonstrations have taken place across the globe with protesters calling for Olympic officials and sponsors to recognize and speak out against the violation of principle six.
 However, Russian lawmakers have denied the existence of any discrimination based on sexuality, according to an article by the Moscow Times.[vi]
 Both Shenderyuk and Baidakova were frustrated at the emphasis placed by Western media on the battle over LGBT rights.
 “People do not have to concentrate on these issues, Olympics [are] supposed to be for sports and celebration of sports … a gathering of all the countries, I think it’s a very good opportunity to put actually all the conflicts aside,” said Baidakova.
 “Because you’re coming as a visitor … so just do not disrespect it or offend [Russian policy]. It’s just not their place to talk about all these issues,” she added.
 Shenderyuk is angered by the accusations and said that the United States and France are using the games as an excuse to push their own discourse concerning LGBT rights as international standards.
 “[U.S President] Obama and [French president] Hollande use the Olympics as a way to promote their personal agenda saying ‘I’m so different, I care about rights … I just won’t go.’ And by doing this, [Obama] sends American people a signal … their own leader is not going, maybe there is a problem, [maybe] Russia is so backward that they really shouldn’t go,” said Shenderyuk.
 “I think it’s up to Russian people and not up to international people to decide which kind of rights they perceive as uniform,” he explained.
 Baidakova also noted that respecting one’s host country should be implicit for visitors to that country, comparing the issue to her own experiences in Abu Dhabi.
 “For example, here [in the UAE] we are not supposed to wear shorts because it’s just disrespectful … we don’t even talk about it … because you just don’t do it,” she said.
 She believes the media are focusing on the tangential issues, not the sports, because they are more dramatic and attention-grabbing. She said that Russia has many other social and rights-based issues, and thus there is a lack of emphasis on LGBT rights.
 “We have so many issues in Russia right now … like a lot of poverty, issues with children, homeless children… and the LGBT community is one of those very vivid angles [for journalists to take]… it’s a very discussable topic right now,” she said. “LGBT is not the first problem.”
Shenderyuk was also frustrated by the media misrepresenting Putin’s centrality to the games. He said that he dislikes the emphasis on the Olympics as Putin’s own.
 “That’s okay to see Russia using the Olympics to portray greatness, because every [country] does. Is it Putin’s own games? I don’t like that approach … it is not his own personal thing,” said Shenderyuk.
 He is planning to attend the Olympics and is excited by their simple capacity to celebrate human greatness. Shenderyuk believes that the sporting aspect of the games is a perfect way of showcasing the common humanity that we share. He hopes that they will take the emphasis off of the tangential issues obscuring the simple pursuit of breaking records.
 “For me this is a big opportunity to show the world that … regardless of your misconceptions, your race, your religion, it doesn’t matter when it comes to showing who’s great,” he said.
 “If people concentrate on the Olympics and come back to the basics as a way of showing the unity, showing that man is really capable of mastering the impossible … the unity it creates and the differences it reconciles [we need to focus on that].”
 Baidakova agreed. “The [tourists and viewers across the world] will know that there are not only bears and vodka in Russia,” she said. “I want the world to see on TV that we are not so close-minded and cold … I just want the world to see the beauty of Russia.”
 Tessa Ayson is features editor. Email her at
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