Olympics fans have good reason to worry about Sochi

Posted on February 10, 2014 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By: Nick Rotondi

With the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on last Friday, there have already been various reports of terrorist threats and “hotel horrors,” leaving many wondering if Putin has been putting everyone on with his promise to provide a “really spectacular show.”

For Mainers, the Winter Olympics are always popular due to the abundance of winter sporting in the state of Maine and Maine’s long history of sending athletes to compete for the United States. In 1928, Maine’s first Olympian, Geoffrey Mason, was studying at the University of Freiberg in Germany when a post in the Paris Herald caught his attention. The write-up was looking for U.S. athletes in Europe to try out for the Olympic bobsledding team at the first true Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The former Bowdoin track and football athlete ended up with more than just a place on the U.S. Olympic team: he came home with a gold medal. Since 1948, there has been at least one U.S. athlete from Maine in every Winter Olympics. In total, there have been 37 U.S. athletes who were either born in Maine or attended school in our notably wintery state. This year, former University of Maine standout goalie Jimmy Howard will be one of three between the pipes for the men’s hockey team, and Russell Currier of Stockholm, Maine will be going for gold in the biathlon.

However, with the festivities, there is also a great deal of controversy. Being a large gathering of people of many nations, the Olympics always prompt terrorist threats and security concerns, but this year they come at an unprecedented level. Perhaps the most well-known example of terrorism related to the Olympics took place in 1972 at the Summer Olympics, held in Munich, West Germany, where 11 members of the Israeli team were held hostage and eventually murdered. As most people have already heard, there have been a number of terrorist threats made on this year’s Olympics and even recent suicide bombings in Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad. Most people are also, hopefully, praying for the safety of all athletes and spectators alike. The safety concerns have caused many U.S. athletes to tell their families to stay home while they compete. For the parents of athletes, it must be a hard pill to swallow––after supporting their children through a lifetime and having them reach the pinnacle of competitive sports, to be told to stay at home while they compete to bring home a gold medal for their country.

A recent CNN poll has shown that 57 percent of Americans believe that a terrorist attack will occur at this year’s Olympics. In conjunction with the terrorist threats, it is hard to blame the athletes for being concerned about the safety of their loved ones while they already have enough to worry about in competing alone. Perhaps some of the reasoning behind these numbers comes from Sochi’s proximity to Chechnya and Dagestan, two well-known terrorist hotbeds. Both Chechnya and Dagestan are home to the the Islamic-Jihad terrorist organization known as the Caucasus Emirate, which the United Nations Security Council officially deemed an entity associated with Al-Qaeda on July 29, 2011. With many not making the trip to Sochi, The Five co-host Eric Bolling considers this to be “letting the terrorists win.” I, personally, have a hard time holding anything against the athletes for thinking in the best interest of those whom they care about the most. Not so dissimilar to Bolling’s point, I strongly feel that these terrorist threats completely undermine the entire point of the Olympics. Shouldn’t everyone be able to put aside their differences and politics for a few weeks every two years and be able to enjoy watching the world’s top athletes contend to bring home a gold medal?

In addition to the threat of terrorist attacks, recent reports of the hotel conditions in and around Sochi have been less than welcoming. Soon after the arrival of reporters in Sochi, it was reported that 97 percent of all hotel rooms in the area are incomplete, from missing shower curtains, pillows, door knobs and light bulbs to unreliable electricity and water. The image of two water glasses that appear to be filled with urine or beer, rather than water, were put into the spotlight by Chicago Tribune reporter Stacy St. Clair. Not to mention the toilets that are two to a room and only a few feet apart from each other that come with directions to dispose of used toilet paper in the trash bins instead of flushing it.

Another issue that has received much attention is Russia’s anti-gay laws. Should the International Olympic Committee have chosen a country to host the Olympics that has threatened to jail those openly expressing their views on the matter? On the day of the opening ceremonies, four gay rights activists were jailed in St. Petersburg, Russia for a banner that made reference to Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on ground of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

One possible positive side of what we in the U.S. might call an apparent lack of civil liberties is that Russian security officials will have no problem jailing suspected terrorists or threats, and maybe that’s something that will help Olympians and spectators sleep at night.
Certainly many are also not in favor of the capturing and disposal of stray dogs in the Sochi area. A pest control company, Basya Services, has been given a contract to cull the stray dogs of Sochi for this year’s Olympics. Russian authorities are opposed to the sterilization of these stray dogs instead of killing them as the humane way to handle this issue. Alexi Sorokin, Managing Director of Basya Services, says the stray dogs have bitten people and insists that they are poisoned humanely. If the dogs were to enter the stage during the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, “it would be a disgrace for the whole country,” said Sorokin. Isn’t this fact, which was made public, of inhumanely killing these poor, defenseless animals pretty disgraceful? I would argue yes, it is extremely disgraceful and one reason why I would not choose to live in Russia.

With all of this turmoil in mind, what should be done in the future to prevent heightened security concerns, people being jailed for expressing their views and low quality hospitality for both athletes and spectators at the Olympics? Should the International Olympic Committee be more careful in deciding where to hold the Olympics or should the holding country take more precautions and make preparations much earlier? Even though Vladimir Putin put a shirt on and was seen cuddling with a snow leopard in his lap a few days prior to the opening ceremonies, I’m not sure this comforting image will be enough for many who would like to be at the 2014 Winter Olympics to cheer for their country.