Sochi Olympics: The good and the bad

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 6, 2014 at 5:47 am •  Published: January 6, 2014
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LONDON (AP) — Tuesday marks the 1-month countdown to the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, a defining moment on the world stage for Russia and Vladimir Putin.

These games are among the most contentious in Olympic history, embroiled in controversy over terrorist threats, human rights, gay rights, cost overruns, corruption and environmental damage.

But is it all doom and gloom for Putin's pet project?

Before the Olympic cauldron is lit on Feb. 7, it's time for a look at the good and the bad for Russia's first Winter Games.

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The negatives:

TERROR THREAT: The two bombings in Volgograd — which killed 34 people in suicide attacks on the rail station and a trolley bus — have escalated the security alarm. Sochi is located on the edge of the Caucasus region, where insurgents are seeking to create an Islamic state. Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov has urged his fighters to attack the Sochi Olympics, which he described as "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors." A massive security apparatus will be in place for the games, meaning painstaking metal-detector, X-ray and other checks for athletes, spectators and media. Ticketholders will need to obtain "spectator passes," providing passport and other information to authorities. Email, phone and internet usage will reportedly be monitored by Russian security agencies. Putin is expected to attend many Olympic events, causing further security lockdowns. A heavy presence of Russian security forces could turn the games into an armed camp and undermine any prospect of a welcoming, festival atmosphere.

GAY RIGHTS: The Russian law banning gay "propaganda" has caused a furious backlash in the West and tarnished the country's international reputation heading into the Olympics. While Russia has promised there will be no discrimination at the games, critics continue to bash the law. The IOC has been assailed for not pushing Russia to repeal the legislation. Some athletes are planning to make their views known in Sochi, either by speaking out or carrying or wearing symbols promoting gay rights. That's something which could land athletes in trouble with the IOC, which prohibits any political gestures at the games.

HUMAN RIGHTS: Russia's human rights record remains under scrutiny. With the games approaching, Putin has launched a charm offensive of sorts — pardoning former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and granting amnesty for Pussy Riot punk band members and Greenpeace activists. He has even rescinded an order banning any demonstrations in or around the games. Critics call the moves window dressing. Will protest applications be granted? Will anyone dare come out to demonstrate? Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has accused Russian authorities of mistreating migrant workers and harassing activists and journalists.

PUTIN'S POLITICS: Putin's prickly relations with the West have soured any "feel-good" factor about the Olympics. Tensions with the U.S. and President Barack Obama grew after Putin granted temporary asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Putin's policies on Syria and Iran, and Russia's backsliding on democratic reforms have antagonized Western leaders. For the first time since 2000, the U.S. delegation to the Olympics will not include a president, vice president or first lady. Obama is sending several openly gay athletes, including tennis great Billie Jean King and figure skater Brian Boitano. French President Francois Hollande and German President Joachim Gauck are not going to Sochi, either.

WEATHER WORRIES: Sochi is a subtropical resort on the Black Sea. Temperatures on the coast, where the indoor ice events will be held, will be mild. That's fine, but there is uncertainty over conditions in the mountains for the snow events. While there is already a good layer of snow in place, a spell of warm or wet weather could cause problems. As a precaution, organizers have stored up 450,000 cubic meters of snow. Also worth noting: flooding and avalanches are common in the region.

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