The 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort Sochi, Russia are under one month away. Security and safety issues remain rampant and the restriction on “homosexual propaganda” by Russian President Vladimir Putin is still a sensitive topic.
However, the International Olympic Committee is stressing that athletes will be safe and are in no danger of any terrorist attacks of the kind that have devastated the country over the past few years, leaving death tolls in the thousands. Russian officials are aligning what is going to end up being the tightest Olympic security in the history of the games. Suicide bombings in Volgograd on New Year’s Eve left 34 dead and more than five-dozen gravely injured. Volgograd is located some 600 miles outside of Sochi. Earlier today, seven servicemen were killed in a sweep for militants in Dagestan, which is nearly 400 miles outside of Sochi.
Athletes are likely not at risk. The bombings in these cities represent a terrifying prospect, though: with security expected to increase significantly in Sochi and around Olympic sites to protect athletes and spectators, security outside of Sochi will be left weakened as a result and susceptible to attack.
The CEO of the United States Olympic Committee, Scott Blackmun, in an interview with ESPN said the U.S. plans on deferring to the IOC when it comes to handling the political aspects that are expected to carry on through the Games. “They’re there to compete. They’re not there to talk about their politics or their religion or anything else. So for us, we really just want the attention focused on our athletes and their great competitions,” said Blackmun. “We’re hoping that our athletes feel very comfortable speaking their minds before they go to the Games. But when they get to the Games, that’s really the time to focus on sport.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has stayed firm on his restriction of “homosexual propaganda” while continually issuing assurances that all athletes and visitors regardless of sexuality will be treated equally. The United States Olympics delegation include tennis icon Billie Jean King and two-time Olympic ice hockey champ Caitlin Cahow, who are both gay. Many other athletes have said they will be forthright about their sexuality during the Olympics, which could lead to arrests and potentially violent protests. U.S. President Barack Obama, French President François Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are among Western Leaders boycotting the games.
At the very least, athletes could have their medals stripped since they have little to no grounds for expressing their views. Which was brought up by King in an interview recently with the Associated Press. “Before I knew about Rule 50 [of the Olympic charter], I thought it would be sweet to wave some flags or something. But they can get in big trouble and have their medal taken away and also be sent home.” According to Rule 50 of the Olympic charter, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” Additionally, “No form of publicity or propaganda, commercial or otherwise, may appear on persons, on sportswear, accessories or, more generally, on any article of clothing or equipment whatsoever worn or used by the athletes or other participants in the Olympic Games.”
However, with 2,500-plus competitors expected to show up, not all will be in the running for a medal. Which makes the allure of pioneering a protest for an issue with much greater importance than any game that will be played, much more appealing. Thirty-four years ago, Russia failed to successfully deliver on the Olympics in Moscow. Not much has changed since then, despite Putin’s persistence.