In 2007, the selection of Sochi as the 2014 Winter Olympics site by the International Olympic Committee was a controversial one, and outrage and fear have continued to stoke the fire. Here is a breakdown of some of the biggest scandals to surround the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Black Widows
Fear of terrorism has been a dark cloud over the usual excitement about the Olympic Games, a global event that is intended to create unity and peace, not divisiveness and the threat of violence. Government officials have been searching for "black widows," women sent to carry out suicide bombings to avenge the deaths of husbands or family members, who have reportedly been eyeing Sochi for a potential attack. Police fear that the terrorists may already be in Sochi, seeking to wreak havoc on the 2014 Games. Officers have been posting fliers around the city warning about the black widows.
The face of Ruzanna Ibragimova, the 22-year-old widow of a militant, has been plastered all over news sites. She is one of three main black widow suspects whom police have been trying to track down.
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British officials recently warned that attacks are "very likely to occur" either before or during the Games, and, if an attack does happen, it will likely be at the hands of Islamic group Imirat Kavkaz. A twin bomb attack on the city of Volgograd, a city about 400 miles northeast of Sochi, in December killed 34 people before the militant group Vilayat based in Dagestan claimed responsibility.
But, easing some fears, the British assessment noted that Sochi would be difficult to attack because of the Russian military operations that have added more than 37,000 extra security personnel, creating a "ring of steel" around the Olympic venue.
American Athletes Warned Not to Wear Team USA Gear
In response to security threats, the U.S. State Department wrote a memo warning American competitors not to wear U.S. clothing or gear outside of the Olympic Village.
"The U.S. Department of State has advised that wearing conspicuous Team USA clothing in non-accredited areas may put your personal safety at greater risk," said the memo, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In response to the memo, U.S. snowboarder Greg Bretz told the Wall Street Journal that U.S. Olympic officials "have told us not to wear our USA gear outside of the venues," but "I have so much faith in the United States and our safety that I'm not too worried about it."
Olympians Encourage Families to Stay Home
Nevertheless, many Olympians are taking the threats of an attack quite seriously, even encouraging their family members to stay home. Team USA hockey defenseman Ryan Suter told reporters that his wife and two small children won't be making the trip to Sochi. On top of the long trip from Minnesota, Suter said, the threats of violence made the decision to stay home "a little bit easier." USA hockey forward Zach Parise and U.S. speedskater Tucker Fredricks also asked their families to stay home out of fear for their safety.
"It's nerve-wracking, that's for sure. I guess there's no way around it," Parise told the Associated Press. "I watch the news. I see that stuff going on. It's not very comforting.'"
And Canadian hockey goalie Mike Smith said of his family members, "They're not gonna go. It's not worth it. For myself, it's about thinking if [my wife is] OK when I'm not with her. It's unfortunate, but it's just the way it is."
Alleged Drug Lord Helped Russia Win 2014 Olympics Bid
Gafur Rakhimov, a Russian businessman whom U.S. authorities describe as a head crime boss, reportedly had a direct hand in helping Russia beat out Korea and Austria in the 2007 International Olympics Committee to win the rights to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, ABC News reported. Rakhimov is under criminal indictment in Uzbekistan.
"He is one of the four or five most important people in the heroin trade in the world," Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, told ABC News. "He's absolutely a very major and dangerous gangster."
When asked whether he played a hand in the selection, Rakhimov confirmed that he had a role in helping Russia win votes through his contacts in Central Asian Olympic circles.
"He convinced them because of his good relations with these people. He has great influence," Rakhimov’s translator and spokesman said.
After the IOC Sochi selection in 2007, the head of the Russian Olympic Committee publicly thanked Rakhimov for his "singled-minded work" in getting the votes of some Asian countries, "without which … it would have been hard for Sochi to count on the victory."
A spokesperson for the International Olympic Committee said in a statement, "The IOC has a strong, transparent, tried-and-tested bidding process" and that the committee "never compromised on quality, as the athletes expect the IOC to deliver games of the highest standard for them every four years."
Putin's Alleged Kickbacks
"You will be drowned in blood," Russian businessman Valery Morozov said he was told after publicly accusing Putin's office of demanding kickbacks in exchange for construction contracts for the Sochi Olympics.
Morozov said he is a "marked man" in the wake of alleging rampant corruption surrounding the Olympics. The former construction executive said that he made regular cash deliveries of "tens of millions of rubles" in relation to building contracts for Sochi and other government projects.
Boris Nemtsov, a Putin rival and former Russian deputy prime minister, told ABC News, "Everybody knows this is the most criminal case in the history of Russia. … My estimation is that they stole $30 billion altogether." Some of the largest investors were companies led by close confidants of Putin, he said.
Because of the 2014 Sochi Games, Nemtsov said Putin's "friends became billionaires, and Russian people get nothing except very deficit budget." According to Bloomberg, one of the largest private beneficiaries of the 2014 Games is Arkady Rotenberg, a childhood friend of Putin, who reportedly won contracts worth $7.4 billion, more than the entire budget of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
In response to the allegations of questionable business ties, Putin's spokesman told reporters, "No friendship can grant you access to Olympics projects."
Sochi Mayor Anataloy Pakhomov made headlines last week and reignited the gay rights issue in Russia when he told CBS News, "Homosexuals are not acceptable in the Caucasus; we don't have them in our town." Despite the declaration, Pakhomov did add that gay people are welcome in his city — as long as they respect Russian laws.
Russia has been the hotbed of worldwide debate on gay and human rights issues after Putin passed a law last year prohibiting "propaganda of nontraditional sexual practices" among minors.
The laws have inflamed gay and human rights activists. And earlier in January, Putin told a group of Olympic volunteers at Krasnaya Polyana near Sochi, apparently to reassure skeptics about antigay attitudes in Russia, that "one can feel calm and at ease. Just leave kids alone, please."
After being urged by gay rights groups to send a message against Russia's stance on gays, Obama selected two openly gay athletes to the delegation that will represent the U.S. at opening and closing ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Tennis legend Billie Jean King will join the opening ceremony, and Caitlin Cahow, a hockey player and Olympic medalist, will represent the U.S. in the closing ceremony.
"The U.S. Delegation to the Olympic Games represents the diversity that is the United States," the president said in a statement. "All our delegation members are distinguished by their accomplishments in government service, civic activism, and sports. We are proud of each and every one of them and think they will serve as great ambassadors of the United States to the Olympic Games."
Russian officials initially prohibited any sort of public protest during the Sochi Games, but after pushback from both citizens and foreigners, Putin and his people offered up a small public park in the beachside neighborhood of Khosta in Greater Sochi. Sochi protesters will likely focus on gay rights and environmental protection issues once the games begin. The official area where people are authorized to protest and share their messages is a 40-minute trip by public transport from the Olympic Park.
Dmitry Chernyshenko of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee said Wednesday that he didn't think athletes were allowed to speak about nonsporting issues at official Olympic news conferences. That contradicted IOC President Thomas Bach's statement last Monday, in which he said Olympians have the right to freely express themselves at news conferences.
In response to the confusion, the IOC said in a statement: ''Mr. Chernyshenko simply meant that athletes are free to express themselves at a press conference —but of course they cannot use a press conference to make a demonstration or protest — similarly, they cannot use any Olympic venue to demonstrate.''
Construction May Damage Natural Surroundings
Despite several expert statements that the construction of Olympic venues in the buffer area of the UNESCO-protected Caucasus Biosphere Reserve and Sochi National Park could be harmful, the IOC approved the plans.
Last year, the Russian nonprofit group Environmental Watch, which tries to protect "wild nature" and advocate environmental human rights in the Russian Caucasus and the Black and Caspian ecosystems, wrote in an open letter to the IOC, "A unique environment is being damaged irreparably over a large area. According to our information, functionality of approximately 2,000 hectares of Greater Sochi had been radically changed; radical land expropriation, destruction of natural landscapes and appearance of anthropogenic landscapes have taken place."
The group added that toxic waste had been dumped into the Mzymta River and that "threats of landslides, erosion, avalanches, and mudslides have appeared on the slopes of mountain ridge Aibga as a result of continuing deforestation and construction of ski trails, chair lifts and other objects."
Stray Dogs Euthanized
Russia has quite a large population of stray dogs throughout the country, and many have become street-smart pups, but unfortunately, in trying to "clean up" for the Olympics, thousands of stray dogs have been euthanized. In April 2013, Sochi officials announced its plans to kill 2,000 stray dogs "to keep the tourists and Olympic visitors safe."
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CTV News reported that a company was hired to "clean" Sochi of stray dogs between the hours of 1 a.m. to 6 a.m., trapping, poisoning, and killing the dogs at the hours during which they will least likely be seen.
- Sports & Recreation
- 2014 Winter Olympics