In February and March 2014, Russia will host the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in the city of Sochi. For Russia’s leaders the Olympics are an opportunity to showcase their ability to organize major events and burnish the country’s international image. Situated on the Black Sea, Sochi has long been one of the country’s most popular resorts, a favored vacation destination for Soviet and contemporary Russian leaders. With the awarding of the Olympics, Sochi has undergone a transformation that will turn it into what Russian officials describe as a “premier winter sports destination,” with gleaming new Olympic venues being built both in Sochi and the nearby Caucasus Mountains.
But this transformation has also come at a cost to many Sochi residents and many of the migrant workers who have arrived in Russia to help build the new Sochi. Some families displaced for Olympic construction have lost their homes without compensation. In one village, because drinking wells were destroyed, there has been no reliable source of drinking water for several years. In other villages, landslides threaten residents’ health and safety. Migrant workers on key Olympic venues have been exploited and abused. Activists and journalists who sought to criticize or document Olympics-related abuse have faced pressure, harassment, and in some cases, arrest and prosecution.
In undertaking to host the Olympic Games, Russia committed to uphold the Olympic Charter’s principles of “human dignity.” Russian authorities should not allow the Olympic preparations to become a source of repression.