The first week of February will mark the start of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. This year’s Olympic village will be the Russian resort town of Sochi. Sochi, however, is not nearly as ideal for winter games as one would imagine in an otherwise bitterly cold Russia. In fact, Sochi is a beach town, in one the warmest parts of Russia, lining the Black Sea. So why would this year’s games be hosted in a city whose temperature on January 15, 2014 clocked in at 34 degrees Celsius which converts to a frigid 93 degrees in the American unit of measure? The answer is quite simple, Vladimir Putin, Russian president and former prime minister wants very badly to send a message to the world that he is great. The costs, both financial and cultural, though, are beginning to add up for Putin and will soon leave him on even thinner ice with his people. The Sochi games have already piled up a price tag of $51 billion. That’s BILLION! They are also being hosted in the midst of incredible controversy over recent “anti-gay” legislation in Moscow which would detain and deport anyone who is gay or “pro-gay.”
Why would the president of one of the coldest countries in the world petition to host the “Winter” Olympics in the closest thing Russia has to South Beach? Well for the same reason that President Putin takes his shirt off and flexes his manliness every chance he gets: he’s trying to prove something. He wants to prove that Russia is relevant to the post-communist world and that they are a strong nation. It is for this reason that Putin has spent $51 billion on the games and so-called “related expenses.” The number $51 billion, by the way, surpasses the cost of the supremely extravagant Beijing Olympics of 2008 which cost only $40 billion. Putin’s problem is that these expenses are on menial things like building bridges into the mountains and shipping and storing snow from Russia’s colder regions. Yes, that’s right, Russia of all countries has had to import snow for their Winter Olympics.
In addition to all this, sources close to the situation including an outspoken critic of the regime, Leonid Martynyuk, claims that the only building companies that received contracts for the Sochi games were personal friends of Putin. The claim is that Putin has handed over construction deals to people who happen to own summer resort homes right next to his in Sochi. This is severely contrasted by the overwhelming issue of poverty Russia. Much like the Rio World Cup, these Sochi games are calling a lot of unwanted attention to the extreme marginalization of the Russian people. Since the fall of communism, things have not gone well in the former Soviet Union and in some ways, the situation is worse than ever before. People are living with entire families in homes that are not much bigger than a studio apartment. All of this just down the street from where Putin seems content to throw himself a big hoorah.
Another issue for the upcoming games is the ongoing controversy over homosexuality in Russia. Last year, legislation was passed that allowed for strict punishment for “promoting homosexuality” or giving any “homosexual propaganda” to minors. Many gay rights activists were detained and fined during June 2013 for protesting the law. This has been cause for concern amongst human rights activists and western leaders but apparently not for Russia which is currently in the process of passing yet another anti-gay law. This law would remove custody of a child from any parent who left a spouse of the opposite sex to pursue a homosexual relationship.
According to the Gay Propaganda law, any foreigner caught spreading “gay propaganda” can be fined, deported or even detained for up to 15 days. To this point, Putin has promised that the laws will not carry over to the athletes during the games but has strongly suggested that athletes not speculate on the matter as to avoid controversy. It seems as though Russia is aware that what they are doing to the LGBT community is unfair, at least in the eyes of most every other developed country in the modern world. This is also affected by Putin’s desire to put on a good face at the games.
It is clear that the 2014 Sochi Olympics are a vivid display of Russian corruption under Vladimir Putin as well as his own decadence and self-indulgence. One can only hope that the games will attract the attention of human rights and relief groups to the serious cases of poverty and inequality in the former communist state and inspire a real desire for change amongst its people. We must also, of course, watch carefully to see just how these Olympic Games pan out for all involved.
Find out more about this year’s Winter Olympics at www.sochi2014.com