With the opening of the Winter Olympics this past weekend, everyone is talking about Sochi. The only problem? The majority of attention has not been directed towards the events, but towards the city and country hosting the games. Of course, athletes and their respective sports will soon take over the headlines, but there were numerous unanswered questions leading up to the games: Will the city be prepared? Will security be up to standards? Will Sochi be able to pull this off?
As athletes, journalists and visitors have trickled in to their hotels before the beginning of the games, we have seen an influx of pictures and stories about these hotels, and many of them are going viral. Unfortunately, most of this extra attention is negative.
Reporters have complained about rooms with no electricity, cramped conditions, water the color of gold medals, and undergoing construction as athletes and press arrive. A U.S. bobsled athlete was locked in his bathroom, and had to destroy the door to escape. 6’9” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, representing Slovakia, is reportedly sleeping with a stool at the end of his bed to accommodate for his height. Despite spending 51 billion dollars, the most ever spent on the Olympic Games, Sochi does not seem to be ready for the spotlight.
There is also a problem with stray dogs roaming the city. There have been multiple children bitten, and one dog even decided to join in with the rehearsals for the opening ceremony. The city has hired a “pest-control” firm to handle the problem, who then promptly released a report stating they would assist in the “catching and disposal” of the dogs, concerning animal lovers and advocates internationally.
To further complicate the situation Sochi currently faces, the Olympics always come with an added security risk. It seems like, in the run up to every games, security is constantly scrutinized and debated. Just two years ago, London was dealing with the same high tension of having all the nations of the world in one city. Luckily, the games came and went in peace. The Russian government has stressed that Sochi is as secure as London, New York, or other large cities. However, this year, U.S. officials have been on high alert, citing a number of “specific threats” that are being investigated. Two Austrian athletes were even sent a threatening letter just days before the games.
Of course, the most conversation and controversy about Sochi surrounds the anti-gay law that Russia put into action last year. This has been a topic of discussion for many months leading up to the games, and it continues as they begin. President of Russia Vladimir Putin signed into law a ban on pro-gay propaganda, citing the need to protect minors from a “distorted understanding” that same-sex relationships are equal to heterosexual ones. Not surprisingly, Russia and Putin in particular have faced backlash from multiple nations including the United States and England, as well as corporations like McDonalds and AT&T (who happens to be a sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee). Google has also protested by making its home page doodle rainbow-colored.
Putin attempted to respond to the outrage and protests by reassuring any potential gay visitors that, “One can feel calm and at ease. Just leave kids alone please.”
Additionally, he repeatedly stated that there are no laws against homosexuality. The ban is simply a propaganda aimed towards children. Less than a week after signing that law, Putin also signed a law that forbids the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples. Essentially, Putin’s so-called concern for the children means he would rather have them remain orphans than be raised by a same-sex couple.
Numerous protests occurred in response to the new law and athletes from many different countries have expressed their support for gay rights. U.S. President Barack Obama made his position quite clear by selecting a number of openly gay former athletes to be included in the American delegation to the opening ceremony, while choosing not to personally attend.
“There is no doubt we wanted to make it very clear that we do not abide by discrimination in anything, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” said Obama.
Putin’s stance on gay rights is not the only issue that caused a controversy for Russia’s Olympic run. Two years ago, three members of the music group Pussy Riot were jailed for an anti-Putin protest outside a Russian church. Now two of the activists, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, are touring New York, appearing on The Colbert Report and alongside singer Madonna in concert. In response, six other members of the group have recently “disowned” the pair, saying that the two activists lost sight of the group’s purpose. Another group, t.A.T.u., a Russian pop-duo, are performing at the opening ceremonies. Apparently, the Russian version of their name means “this girl loves that girl”, and their song lyrics and performances feature highly suggestive lesbian behavior, making the whole situation more convoluted by the minute.
To sum up the Sochi Olympics so far: “Of course members of the LGBT community are free to come to Sochi! Just don’t act gay in front of the children, especially orphans. You can certainly be gay in a private hotel room, which has no doorknob, is the size of a closet, and may or may not have electricity. Oh, and also don’t get too attached to any of the soon-to-be-euthanized stray dogs.”
Despite all the controversy, it’s important to remember that the Olympics are more than just a group of competitions. The games are a chance to celebrate diversity and unity among different nations and races. So while the conditions, both physical and political, may be controversial, let’s hope that when the games end, we will be talking about the athletes and their achievements in addition to everything else.