When the International Olympic Committee chose Sochi to host the 2014 Winter Games, it inadvertently put a spotlight on one of the world’s most unapologetically corrupt, bigoted and despotic nations. If committee members thought the event would have a civilizing effect on Russia, they should have looked to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
The choice of Vladimir Putin’s favorite semitropical resort to host the Winter Games is proving to be an unparalleled disaster on several fronts in addition to the iffy weather.
The IOC’s selection of Sochi was a slap in the face of LGBT people every- where. Russia has criminalized public displays of non-heterosexual behavior and expressions of pro-equality sentiment. Putin’s government openly encourages and coddles gay bashers and killers.
With a price tag of $51 billion, the Sochi Games are already the most expensive in history — five times as costly as the Vancouver Games. The outrageous cost overruns are largely due to bribes, payoffs and kickbacks to Putin’s cronies, who run the government in the same fashion as the Mafia.
A report by Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, and Leonid Martynyuk, a member of the Solidarity movement, claims Russian officials have stolen nearly three times Putin’s original estimate of $12 billion to produce the games. Olympic contractor Valery Morozov is one of many to be stung by public officials. He says he was told by local Olympic officials to add about $30 million to his bill, which he was instructed to turn over to them through phantom companies.
After going public with the scam, Morozov learned that a hit was ordered on him. He’s living, for now at least, under asylum in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, the state company Olympstroi, which is in charge of Sochi construction, is the subject of three criminal investigations. Of course, it’s not likely that any of them will reach a courtroom, much less that anyone will face punishment. Russia’s deplorable prison camps are filled with political dissenters like the recently released punk rockers Pussy Riot, not with the criminals who generate much of the nation’s economic activity.
Russia’s ruthless treatment of the former Soviet Union’s satellite nations has unleashed a backlash that makes the nation among the most despised on earth — and consequently one of the most vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Bombings in Volgograd timed in connection with the passing of the Olympic torch through the city on Dec. 30 killed 34 people.
Muslim groups have issued a chilling warning to expect more of the same. The Pentagon has assured the press that the U.S. Navy has stationed a destroyer and an amphibious ship in the Black Sea near Sochi in case a crisis arises.
We believe that a crisis arose on the day the IOC chose Sochi for the Winter Games. The Olympics were created to stand for a “universal quest for peace, moral integrity and an exalted mix of mind, body, and spirit that transcends culture.” Nothing about the savage, corrupt nation of Russia embodies that standard.
If disaster should strike the Games, IOC members who pushed to have them held in Sochi must be held accountable.