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Sochi 2014 - Concerns and Controversies

In Sochi, host city of the XXII Winter Olympic Games, final preparations are under way for the opening ceremony on 7 February, but while the Russian organising committee countdown the days, controversy surrounding the Games continues to grow.

Despite recent flooding in the area, the Black Sea resort is reported to be almost ready, but at what cost? The Games are expected to be one the most expensive in history with the final bill expected to top £31bn. Preparation has involved building thirteen sporting venues and modernizing the telecommunications, power and transport infrastructure of the entire area. There have been economic and environmental concerns too with Greenpeace Russia fearing the harmful effects that all this construction will have on the West Caucasus World Heritage Site and Sochi National Park. They say that the IOC and Russian Government should assume all responsibility for any damage.

All this, however, has been overshadowed by the row over new laws in Russia that forbid “gay propoganda”. Since the establishment of a Pride House at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, pavilions welcoming and celebrating LGBT athletes have been established at major sporting events including the 2012 Summer Olympics and the UEFA Euro 2012. However, an attempt to obtain a Pride House at the 2014 Sochi Games was struck down by the Ministry of Justice on the basis of it “inciting propoganda of a non-traditional sexual orientation.”

Human Rights noted the issue and called for the IOC to take into consideration the safety of any LGBT competitors. Campaigners have called for the Games to be taken away from Russian and urged countries and sponsors, including Coca Cola, Visa Inc, Panasonic and Samsung, to boycott the Games.

 Despite this, the IOC stated in August that it had “received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation would not affect those attending, or taking part in the Games”. And by the end of September, Jean-Claude Killy, head of the IOC commission, dismissed concerns about Russia’s new legislation after inspectors visited Sochi and gave it their seal of approval. Killy, a former gold medal-winning skier for France, told a news conference, “as long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied”. He went on to say, “the competition venues are ready; the spirit of the Games is awakening; and the athletes, spectators and all others who visit next February can expect a fabulous experience”

Civil rights campaigners have accused the IOC of abandoning the LGBT community.  “If this law doesn’t violate the IOC’s charter, then the charter is completely meaningless,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a group that works to ensure equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Last month broadcaster, Stephen Fry wrote to David Cameron and the IOC urging a boycott of the Games. But, both the Prime Minister and Lord Coe, Chairman of the British Olympic Association, are wholeheartedly against a British boycott. Cameron said: “I believe we can better challenge prejudice as we attend, rather than boycotting the Winter Games”.

 

Sochi may have become a battleground for gay rights, but Great Britain’s chef de mission Mike Hay insisted in August that GB athletes would be competing. Speaking after the women’s curling team became the first athletes confirmed to represent GB, Hay said, “We are better off being there. Why should we penalise the athletes. The British Olympic Association is a non-political organisation and our Chairman just happens to be Lord Coe, who was very strong in the fact that athletes had trained a lifetime to go.”

What do you think?

 

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