Over the next two weeks, the world will tune in to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. An estimated 6,000 athletes representing 85 different countries will compete in 89 separate events. Covered extensively in the news, the town of Sochi, Russia has undergone a marvelous transformation with the construction of new and renovations to existing hotels, trains, roads, tunnels, ski-slopes, restaurants, telecommunications systems, airport terminals, and modern sports venues just to name a few.
Of course, an international event of this size and notoriety doesn’t pass by undetected and without controversy. The Sochi Winter Olympics is no exception. Here is a recap of some of the more notable concerns that have filled the news headlines more recently:
Security threats are a worry for the leaders of the countries sending their athletes and citizens to the Olympic Games. After the December 2013 twin bombings in Volgograd, Russia, killing 34 people, there has been a rise in terrorist threats from Islamic militants and Russian jihadists based in the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus, as well as a group of young women whose husbands have been killed by Russian forces.
The games have also been met by protestors who find the 2014 Winter Olympics offensive as it coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Circassian genocide, which also took place in Sochi. Protestors contend that the Olympics will be hosted on “mass graves.”
In an effort to ease concerns, Putin has personally promised a “ring of steel” to secure the Olympic Village. An estimated 40,000 police officers, military, and Federal Security Service agents will be present during the games, and reports of airport-style security checks with x-ray devices will be stationed at the entrance to every venue. In addition, the United States (U.S.) has stationed two Naval ships in the Black Sea, ready in the event that a mass rescue and evacuation mission is necessary.
Russia’s Gay Rights Propaganda Law was passed by Russia’s parliament in June 2013. President Putin supported the law, which bans the “public discussion of gay rights and relationships anywhere children might hear or see it.” The penalties involve hefty fines, as well as deportation for foreign visitors, which has sparked much controversy across the world. Russian officials released statements affirming that the law was not intended to limit the rights of citizens from other countries, and that those attending the Olympics will have full protected rights.
Political Affiliations have been an issue for the U.S. with Russian President Putin’s connection to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden wanted for stealing secret documents and leaking them to the press. With the Russian government granting asylum to Edward Snowden, many U.S. officials called for a boycott of the games. Additional boycotts were suggested in response to Russia’s new Gay Rights Propaganda Law. President Obama has rejected these ideas, saying the athletes have worked too hard to deny them the opportunity of competing.
Corruption has been a growing concern following the revelation of exorbitant spending in Sochi. The Winter Games are estimated to cost around $50 billion, making Sochi the most expensive games in history. Many argue much of this money has been wastefully spent.
Improved sustainable development has been a positive outcome of the lengthy preparation in anticipation of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and one that could have long term effects. Russia’s very first national standard for environmental construction came into affect in March 2013, and works to reduce energy consumption and the harmful affects of construction on the environment. In addition, Russian officials have incorporated international standards and assessments, while seeking the advice of experts at the United Nations Environmental Program, into the building of Olympic venues in Sochi.
The Winter Olympics have transformed Sochi, a traditionally quiet resort town, into a bustling modern tourist wonderland. Sochi stands to be an inspiring place, with over 25,000 volunteers braving the freezing temperatures (the coldest of any past Olympic location) to provide guidance to those who may be lost, give advice to the confused, and make the travel-weary feel welcome. Russia is a country notorious for its cold, stony exterior and has historically driven fear and paranoia in many Western nations. Hosting the Winter Games is a grand welcome for the world to learn more about Russian culture and people, and serves as an invitation to witness the ability of Russia to create a new Olympic city from the ground up.
Interested in teaching the Olympic Games in your class? Check out these resources:
NY Times: Map of Winter Olympic Medals (NY Times)
Classroom activities, resources, and lesson plans:
Overview of the Sochi Olympics – printable resources, activities, worksheets, reference materials, and lesson plans related to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi
10 Free Things for Teaching about the 2014 Winter Olympics – background resources, videos, and lessons and activities covering the Winter Olympics
2014 Olympic Winter Games – Olympic themed activities and resources on Russian history
Sochi 2014 Games: 6 Winter Olympics-Themed STEM Resources – classroom resources and STEM focused activities related to the Winter Olympic Games
Best of the Winter Olympics – a video highlighting some of the greatest moments in the history of the Winter Games
The Winter Olympics Begin Today – classroom activities, websites, and related resources for teachers
Pittsburgh may not be the home of the 2014 Winter Olympics, but that doesn’t mean athletes here are in short supply. Our own Olympic effort will be held this spring with the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 3-4, 2014. The World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh will be there, and invites you to join the World Runners team. From the 5K and kids marathon to the half and full marathon, and relay, there’s a race for runners of all types. For more information see the Council’s registration page, here. Not a runner? The Council is also seeking volunteers and financial support, both for individual runners and the Council team. Your support helps the Council continue building global awareness and understanding in the Pittsburgh community and area schools.
By: Samantha Simmons, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern