Did the International Olympic Committee err in choosing Russia to host the 2014 Winter Olympics? All eyes are on Sochi, Russia as it begins to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Located on the Black Sea near the border with Georgia, Sochi has trans- formed from a small resort town into a sprawling international arena since its selection in 2007 by the International Olympic Committee. Traditionally, “mega-events” such as the Olympic games have considerable positive economic impacts for the host city and country. The Games often boost tourism, trade, and national name recognition. However, in the run up to the Sochi Olympics, controversies and concerns have threatened to derail the potential positive impacts associated with the Games. Activists, politicians, fans and athletes have voiced concerns over terrorist threats, Russian foreign policy decisions and human rights abuses, including recently passed anti-gay legislation. Professor Kimberly Marten, The Harriman Institute We must look at the Sochi Games in comparative perspective. The 2008 Beijing Olympics also occurred in an authoritarian country that violates human rights, also involved destruction and displacement of neighborhoods with little concern for the environment, and also faced accusations of corruption, though perhaps not on the same scale as Sochi. It’s hard to blame the IOC for selecting these locations, unless we want to limit Olympic venues to liberal democracies. The issues seem “stickier” in Sochi because President Putin’s administration has been internationally aggressive in a way that its Chinese counterpart was not in the lead-up to the Beijing games. Memories of the Russia-Georgia War are still fresh, as are concerns around Russia’s pressuring of Ukraine. In addition, Putin kicked out USAID, punished civil society NGOs for accepting foreign grants, banned U.S. adoptions of Russian children, and granted amnesty to Edward Snowden. Putin seems to relish provoking both the U.S. and Europe. In that sense the schadenfreude is payback for choices Putin personally made. What we can and should blame the IOC for is its extraordinarily risky decision to hold the games in a region with an active insurgency. The existence of violence in the North Caucasus, centered very near Sochi, and the occurrence of terrorist attacks throughout Russia were both well known when the IOC selected Sochi for the Olympics host city in 2007. The world will be lucky if no insurgent violence or terrorism disrupts the Sochi games—and perhaps in retrospect that outcome will determine whether or not the IOC is seen to have erred. Professor Kimberly Marten is the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Political Science at Barnard College and is the Deputy Director of The Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies. Tanya Domi, Adjunct Professor at SIPA and The Harriman Institute. The International Olympic Committee’s selection of Sochi as the host for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games and its selection of China for the Summer Olympic Game s in 2012 has indeed placed participating states and their athletes who oppose these regimes’ egregious human rights abuses in a moral quandary–especially for those athletes now competing at Sochi who happen to be gay. The IOC and its corporate sponsors have repeatedly disregarded well-documented patterns of human rights abuses by hosts of the Olympics. And the IOC has consistently violated its own charter with respect to discrimination under Principle 6, while at the same time convincingly threatening to strip medals or expel athletes from the Games for displaying any form of “political protest” in Sochi. All of which leads one to ask, who, in the final analysis, is violating the spirit of the Olympic movement? The ugliness of the Russian Sochi Games seems to have crossed the line, not only besmirching the IOC’s reputation, but also highlighting its failure to acknowledge President Vladimir Putin’s xenophobic campaign to marginalize gays in every aspect of everyday life. The IOC’s selection has precipitated a backlash of condemnation by the world community, who were relentlessly pressured by enraged LGBT human rights activists. Now would seem to be the moment to reassess legal strategies and undertake public education campaigns that would compel the IOC to steer clear of despotic regimes as hosts of future Olympic games. Professor Tanya Domi is an Adjunct Professor at SIPA and The Harriman Institute. Domi served as Chairperson for the OSCE Media Experts Commission and is currently the emerging LGBT movements. Jason Stout, Russian Analyst for Amnesty International This article represents his personal views and does not represent the position of Amnesty International. While the Russian people deserve the international respect they gain as Olympic hosts, Russia’s government will likely benefit from an increase in both domestic influence and international legitimacy, buttressing President Putin’s ability to continue on the path away from liberal democracy. Socio-cultural research ties high-level sporting events to nationalism and the “might makes right” mentality. Thus, from a human rights/democracy/good governance perspective, the games will result in an overall negative effect for the world. Direct consequences include the relocation of capital for venue construction, horrid treatment of migrant workers and activists, major environmental degradation, and enormous corruption. The original cost estimate of $12 billion has soared to $51 billion, more expensive than all previous Winter Olympics combined, of which an estimated $17-$30 billion was lost to corruption. The decision to host the games in Sochi is mired in a controversy that centers on an alleged heroin kingpin, and Russia’s increasing cyber security capabilities have surfaced at the expense of privacy and the safety of journalists. There are mitigating factors in the Sochi equation, but they have been temporary or insignificant. Those released from prison had only a few months left on their sentences and happened to be the most famous of Russia’s political prisoners. Amnesty International still advocates on behalf of lesser-known Prisoners of Conscience and others abused by an increasingly less-independent judicial system and a consolidation of political power under Putin. Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has crippled peace talks and Putin’s obsession with controlling former Soviet Republics has decimated their economies and democratic aspirations. Ukraine, most notably, continues to struggle under the weight of Putin’s carrot-and-stick political games as protests in Kyiv illustrate. Barring an unforeseen turn of events, Putin will be the only one on the medal stand when the games are over. Jason Stout is a second-year MIA student concentrating in International Finance and Economic Policy at SIPA. He currently works as a Russian analyst for Amnesty International. Brigitte L. Nacos, Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Columbia University News coverage suggests that the most important aspects surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympic Games are the incompetent, unfinished, corruption-plagued and inhumane preparations for the most expensive Olympics ever (estimated at approximately $50 billion). Organizational problems and glitches are nothing new. The 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver had their share of challenges, as did Salt Lake City in 2002 and London in 2012. What, then, about the IOC’s disregard for human rights violations in Russia when deciding to select Sochi? Like the Beijing Summer Games in 2008, this year’s Winter Games have offered opportunities to highlight the host government’s human rights violations that otherwise may not have drawn so much attention. There is, however, one serious reason for questioning the IOC’s 2007 decision to award these Winter Games to Sochi, a town in the shadow of the Caucasus, the center of separatist movements with a history of lethal and indeed catastrophic terrorism tactics. Among a multitude of terrorist attacks before 2007, one incident was parti
cularly troublesome to the Olympic venue: In 2004, in the town of Beslan in the North Caucasus a group of Islamist separatists took more than 1,000 children and adults hostage. In the eventual shootout between the Russian military and the hostage-holders 380 persons were killed and many more injured. The recent bombings in Volgograd and the terrorist threats against Sochi were hardly surprising. Terrorists are well aware that media events like the Olympic Games guarantee massive news coverage of their threats and actual attacks, which is why Black September terrorists struck at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. The attacks in Beslan and Munich illustrate that terrorists can strike in their neighborhood or far from their home base. If terrorist attacks during the Sochi Games, the IOC will be blamed. But lets remember that in in February 2002, five months after 9/11, the Winter Games were held in and around Salt Lake City in spite of the widely perceived threat of further terrorist attacks inside U.S. borders. Brigitte L. Nacos is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. She has written numerous books and journal articles on the news media, the politics of Germany, and terrorism. The Great Debate was compiled by Danielle Stouck, a first-year Master of International Affairs student. This story first ran in the print edition of The Morningside Post on February 19, 2014. Disclaimer: All views presented in this article reflect the personal views of the respondents and not the views of the organizations they represent.