Sochi is mired in controversy and complaints, but a comparison to past Olympic events reveals similar issues. This year’s Olympics have thus far yielded a plethora of criticisms for various issues. Positives are harder to find. Here are the criticisms so far and how they compare to critiques of past Olympic games.
Top of the list for Sochi is the issue of gay rights. Vladimir Putin signed a law in June that banned information on “non-traditional” unions from reaching minors. The law goes on to say that such material may fuel an interest in such relationships, suggesting that being gay is a choice.
Gay rights activists have been protesting despite threats of arrests, and four activists were arrested during the opening ceremonies. President Obama and other world leaders have chosen not to attend the event because of the discriminatory rhetoric, which violates the Olympic Charter.
This is the first Olympics where gay rights have taken center stage. In Beijing there was talk of human rights violations and restrictions on freedom of speech, but there was not a law blatantly prohibiting information on unions of any type.
Freedom of speech is another hot topic at Sochi. The anti-gay law stifles freedom of speech according to protesters since it limits what type of information can be presented. Blasphemy, or criticism of religious views, is also illegal, further constructing what people can express. Finally, the law re-stated that defamation is illegal. Defamation is untrue rhetoric that would damage another’s reputation.
In Beijing, freedom of speech violations were specifically in regards to media restrictions. The Chinese government prohibited local news sources from printing anything negative about the games prior to their commencement. International journalists took up the slack, but were monitored and threatened to quell unfavorable stories.
The government specifically targeted stories on Tibet, violations by government officials, societal discontentment, or anything else that could potentially embarrass an authority. As such, investigative stories were nearly impossible.
The Sochi restriction on freedom of speech is more volatile than that in Beijing because it is a countrywide law. The restrictions in Beijing spurred human rights investigations, but they were restrictions put in place for the games specifically. In contrast, the laws in Russia extend beyond the games and color a lasting perception of the entire country.
Animals are another controversial topic in both the Sochi and Beijing Olympics, though the controversy in Sochi. Stray dogs in Sochi have been killed to make way for the games. Officials have been defensive in the wake of international attention, saying that the dogs can bite and injure people. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), only sick and dying dogs have been killed.
A pest company was hired to exterminate the dogs before the games and hundreds have been killed already. A Russian billionaire recently donated money for a shelter in an attempt to save the homeless canines.
In Beijing the issue was similar, but predominantly with cats. Officials cracked down on strays and pets in order to pave the way for the games. Hundreds of thousands of felines were reportedly rounded into cages and trucked to the edge of the city to be killed. One animal rights group freed 30 cats after careful negotiations.
Relocation of families and exploitation of workers have also been issues in both Sochi and Beijing. For this year’s Olympics, over 2,000 families were forced to move and remain uncompensated according to Human Rights Watch. Four years ago, human rights organizations reported on nearly 1.5 million residents who would be relocated. The Chinese government denied the accusations, saying that 6,000 people had been relocated, but with ease.
Both Beijing and Sochi have had their share of controversies. Remembering that the Olympic games frequently cause displacement and spur criticism can bring perspective to the current issues.
Editorial by Julia Waterhous