As preparations are underway for the most expensive games in Olympic history, Russia faces quite a few globalization challenges. Some challenges are directly related to government policy, such as a recent law passed in the Duma that strips protections given to gay individuals and by proxy, gay athletes. Discriminatory laws are against International Olympic Committee (IOC) policy and thus, many question Russia’s status as host.
Russia has two additional challenges faced by many host countries: security and sustainable development of the Olympic city. Its security challenges though are not from outside forces that wish to disrupt the games, but rather from long-term insurgents in the surrounding Caucus region. As for the sustainability challenges, Russia is having trouble building an infrastructure that supports the games and that benefits the community in the long-run.
Finally, Russia faces major obstacles with its culture of kickbacks and corruption. This culture has resulted in the most expensive games in Olympic history. Oligarchs are helping pay the price for many of the new construction projects and are getting rich in the process. Many commentators believe the local community will not benefit from the games and may even suffer in the long-term.
This news analysis examines all of these globalization challenges associated with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Gay Rights or Lack Thereof
Russia has never been a paragon of human rights, though there have been times in recent history when homosexuals were afforded more rights than now. In the 1990s, life for gay Russians improved immensely. As noted in The New Yorker (2014), the Yeltsin government repealed Article 121, the anti-sodomy law. Gay bars and dance clubs opened and small, gay and lesbian community organizations were started. Tolerance decreased when Putin came to power in 2000. Anti-gay legislation was passed in the provinces and Putin used TV broadcasts as a means to introduce anti-gay messages.
Finally, in June 2013, the Duma passed a law that prohibited “propaganda” concerning “nontraditional sexual relations.” “Propaganda” was defined as, “the purposeful and uncontrolled distribution of information that can harm the spiritual or physical health of a minor, including forming the erroneous impression of the social equality of traditional and nontraditional marital relations” (Renmick, 2013). Demonstration for gay rights became prohibited. Discrimination against the gay community became permissible, making gay individuals essentially second class Russian citizens (Renmick, 2013).
While discrimination against minorities and foreigners is commonplace in Russia, the issue of gay rights is receiving a lot of coverage in articles about the Olympics because the Russian law is in contravention of the Olympic Charter. The charter notes: “Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play” (Zeigler, 2013). Since Russian LGBT athletes face potential discrimination, the Russian law clearly violates the charter.
The IOC has not pushed Russia to overturn the law; however, Putin has tried to ease the situation by allowing protests to be approved (with limitations) in a special Olympic Zone. Putin also noted that there will be no discrimination at the Olympic Games. These concessions are cosmetic and do not address the core issue of equality for the LGBT community. Many high-level leaders are not attending the Games as a gesture of protest, though there is no official boycott as most countries realize that a boycott would not change Russian policy and would only hurt the athletes.
Security and Terrorist Challenges
Security challenges have always plagued the Olympics. Terrorist groups view the games as an opportunity to make a statement. This Olympics is no different. In the months leading up to the 2014 Winter Games, there have been two bombings in the Russian city of Volograd, killing 34 people and hospitalizing 50 others. On a Russian-language Islamist forum website, two men claimed responsibility for these attacks and note that there will be more.
These attacks are part of a larger problem facing Russia. There has been a civil war brewing in the northern Caucus region surrounding Sochi. Islamists battling in that region are not only fighting for a separate state, they have declared a global jihad and want Sharia law across the region. Some analysts blame the Russian government for the harsh crackdown that has taken place over the past couple of years resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths and increased radicalization. In 2012, 700 civilians were killed by Russian troops. Dialogue with Salafists in the region no longer takes place (The Economist, 2014).
As the Olympics approach, Russia is searching for “Black widows,” named for widows who seek vengeance for the deaths of their husbands. These female terrorists are particularly hard to catch as they blend in easier with the locals. Media outlets around the world are displaying the image of one particular woman, Ruzana Ibragimova, in an effort to help catch her as the security forces believe she may have penetrated their security perimeter. Russia is cooperating with foreign security forces to beef up security in the Olympic Village and many countries, such as the U.S., have forces nearby, ready in case an evacuation is needed.
Sustainable Development and Corruption
Creating a sustainable Olympic Games is now the responsibility of the host country, as hosts try to show how the Olympics will benefit the surrounding the community. London 2012 was somewhat successful in this endeavor. The United Kingdom really tried hard to build venues that would benefit the local area. Beijing 2008 was not successful in creating a sustainable Olympics. Nearly four years after the event, most of the arenas are neglected and decaying and the expensive Olympic stadium is rarely used. Athens 2004 was also unsustainable as 22 stadiums remain unoccupied after the Games completed (McDonald, 2012). Many fear Russia is headed down this same path as China and Greece.
Many locals have been displaced by the construction of the Olympic village. To create the village, Russia built two new highways and a high-speed railway, which environmentalists claim led to the deforestation of 478,000-acre Sochi National Park (MacKinnon, 2014). Russian geographers state that the builders of Sochi’s Olympic infrastructure did not take underwater streams into account, which has resulted in flooding in the embankment near the Olympic Park, which had to be rebuilt numerous times (Yaffa, 2014).
Furthermore highways and train lines were built by migrant workers brought in to do the job because locals complained about their salaries and working conditions (MacKinnon, 2014). Most of the funds were embezzled in any case, another reason why locals have not yet gained from the revitalization of Sochi. This lack of improvement for locals is in direct contravention of formal government pronouncements that state that the developments will make Sochi a European sports center. Only time will tell if this vision is achieved.
As the Olympic Games are about to begin, most countries will start to focus on the achievements of their athletes rather than the venues and challenges facing the host country. It seems like a wasted opportunity for change. The only way change will occur is when countries around the world and corporate sponsors force host countries and the IOC to address these challenges. As long as the Games are profitable, this is unlikely to happen. Russia may yet redeem itself, but it will not happen as a result of these Games.
MacKinnon (2014, January 7). In Sochi, anger and controversy of Olympic proportions. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from : http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/in-sochi-anger-and-controversy-of-olympic-proportions/article16227652/
McDonald, M. (2012, July 15). ‘Ruin Porn’ — the aftermath of the Beijing Olympics. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/ruin-porn-the-aftermath-of-the-beijing-olympics/
Renmick, D. (2013, December 13). Gay rights and Putin’s olympics. The New Yorker. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/12/gay-rights-and-putins-olympics.html
Will there be more? (2014, January 4). The Economist. Retrieved from: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21592672-russians-feel-vulnerable-after-two-bombings-volgograd-will-there-be-more
Yaffa, J (2014, January 2). The waste and corruption of Vladimir Putin’s 2014 Winter Olympics. Business Week Retrieved from : http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-02/the-2014-winter-olympics-in-sochi-cost-51-billion
Zeigler, C. (2013, August 7). Don’t boycott: Ban Russia from their own Winter Olympics. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cyd-zeigler/dont-boycott-ban-russia-from-their-own-winter-olympics_b_3720026.html