6 Reasons Journalists Are Freaked Out About Sochi

It’s hard to know whether or not the international community is freaked out about the Sochi Winter Olypmics due to bias against anything that’s not considered a rich Western country, or if it’s because of the real, legitimate list of hurdles Russia is facing before the event. Regardless, many international journalists and publications are questioning the IOC’s decision to give Sochi the games. Here’s what they’re talking about.

 1. Black Widows

Russia has amped up security throughout the Olympic Village and other Olympic sites because of threats that Black Widow suicide bombers will target the games. Black Widows are women who have lost their husbands or other family members (who were members of the insurgency in the Northern Caucasus) to Russian security forces and are carrying out suicide bombings in revenge. The Northern Caucasus is home to a 20-year-long Chechen insurgency and the area has been home to a ton of violence. The most visible face of the Black Widow threats so far is that of Ruzanna Ibragimova, the 22-year-old widow of an insurgent pictured on a leaflet being handed out throughout the Olympic city. She has been spotted in recent days in Sochi. However, two other women are now appearing on postersJhannet Tsakhaeva, 34,  from the restive Russian region of Dagestan, and Oksana Aslanova, 26, from Turkmenistan. Other posters also ask for help in finding two men who are planning attacks in southern Russia (Ruslan Saufutdinov, 21, and Murad Musaev, 25).

Listen to the whole Morning Edition segment on NPR:

 2. Crumbling Facilities and Infrastructure

I always take complaints about facilities and infrastructure with a grain of salt, especially when those complaints come from those who reside outside the country in question. Normal is different everywhere. But some photos of the Olympic Village 15 days prior to the opening ceremony came to light, and they looked like this:

And then journalists from all over began arriving. This is what they found:

Needless to say, there are some real problems facing Sochi with regard to buildings actually having floors.

Thanks for the tweets, Washington Post (and there are more, fyi, you should go read them).

 3. Euthanizing Stray Dogs

Stray dogs are a giant problem in Sochi—they’re everywhere. But instead of spaying or neutering them (which would eventually result in a drastic reduction) and making sure they’re up to date on vaccinations, the city of Sochi is employing a private pest control firm to round them up and dispose of them. No one quite knows how—poison has been bandied about as a possibility, so has shooting them. I know that the value of dogs is different everywhere, but even Russian legislator Sergei Krivonosov (who’s in favor of the dog disposal) admits that this is “not the most humane way” and Russian animal rights activist Dina Filippova can be seen toward the end of the following AP Report suggesting a mass sterilization of stray dogs rather than extermination:


 4. The Anti-Gay Legislation

We’ve covered Russia’s anti-gay legislation so exhaustively on Autostraddle that it seems silly to put it here, but there are definitely journalists (and many others) out there still wondering if gay athletes and spectators will be targeted for violating the law against propaganda promoting a homosexual lifestyle (by just being openly homosexual). So I will leave you with two videos. First, the wonderful Rachel Maddow talks Sochi with David Letterman:


And then this really wonderful PSA masterfully brought onto this planet by the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion:

5. The Weather

I’ll be the first to say that this one is stupid. We’ve held a Winter Olympics in a place with no snow before (I’m lookin’ at you, Vancouver), and it looks like the snow-makers in Sochi are catching a break from mother nature anyways. But even if they hadn’t, here’s how they’d ensure a powder day:

Thank you, New York Times, for science-ing for me!

 6. The Crazy Budget

The Sochi Winter Olympics will cost more than every other Winter Olympics combined. It is the most expensive Olympics in history — summer or winter. It’s four times over its original budget. And it’s not because it’s more wonderful or more opulent than Olympics gone by, it’s because of the alleged corruption and the high costs of securing a region in conflict. According to The Other Russia, one of the most widely-discussed examples of this is the Alder-Krasnaya Polyana road and rail system. This project was conceived and constructed to connect many of the venues to each other—you can see it in the illustration below:

This project, for a 30-mile stretch of road and rail, cost a little over 8 billion dollars to produce. For some perspective, the entire budget of the Vancouver Olympics was 1.5 million. For even more perspective, Russian Esquire published an article about what kinds of expensive things one could pave the road with that would have been cheaper than what it actually cost to make the road. My favorite was the centimeter of beluga caviar.

The Winter Olympics opening ceremonies take place at Fisht Stadium beginning at 11 am EST if you’d like to watch live (on CBC in Canada). If you’re US cable subscriber, you can live stream the Olympics via NBC, but since they want to commentate the opening ceremonies, that’ll only be available at 7:30 pm EST as a replay.

Feature image via Boston.com.

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. “It’s hard to know whether or not the international community is freaked out about the Sochi Winter Olypmics due to bias against anything that’s not considered a rich Western country, or if it’s because of the real, legitimate list of hurdles Russia is facing before the event.”

    The list is good, but I’m not sure this is fair. When China hosted the Olympics, they got plenty of critique for their human rights violations (as Russia has), but people didn’t complain about their hotels.

  2. Thanks for your article! One additional thing I might mention is the insurgency in the Caucasus is actually hundreds of years old. That the site of the Sochi Olympics is one of the places the Circassian peoples (who originally lived in what is now Sochi) were ‘ethnically cleansed’ and the vast majority of them forced to leave Russia (or face extermination… starting in 1864). Rough government estimates say 1-2 million people died during this process and more than 90% of the native populations were kicked out of the country. Krasnaya Polyana (the ski resort) is built upon a Circassian burial ground. Sochi is basically where these native people (who were thought to be a menace to the Russian empire because they were Muslim and might make allegiances with Russia’s enemy, Turkey) made their last stand… not unlike Wounded Knee. There are interesting parallels between these people and the native people’s of North America… so much so that a lot of the way the Circassians were dealt with was specifically inspired by how the US dealt with their own land grabs and exterminations. White settlers (especially conservative Cossacks) were brought in keep the remaining Muslims in line and often tribes which had prior conflicts were regrouped together on, in effect, large reservations with the hope this would distract them from seeking revenge on Russia. Ironically, the largest of the newer resort areas near Sochi is called “Kabardinka” (which essentially means “little Circassian girl”)… how’s that for honoring the native population? That is where “the games” are being held.

  3. My favourite part about the road paved with beluga caviar is the squish-squash sound that would arise from cross-country skiers actually skiing down that road. Smooooooth!

  4. I would think Beluga Caviar would be pretty cheap to get there since they do border the Caspian Sea, where Iran and them are some of top produces of caviar in the world.

  5. Thanks for this. There is more, though. The reports by the Human Rights Watch on harrowing violations going on in Sochi are massively worrying. Forced evictions without compensation, exploitation of migrant workers, the destruction of the National Park and drinking water wells in the area by dumping construction waste, lives are being deeply and permanently damaged here. This is a good overview: http://www.hrw.org/people-and-power-2014-sochi-olympics

    Journalists in Russia face threats of the loss of their job or worse if they refuse to keep quiet about these issues.

    Insofar as there is a non-rich, non-Western country bias at work here, I think that it is not inflating the actual problems at hand. On the contrary, I’m afraid that it is difficult to imagine just how much corruption and violence towards citizens can go on, under the international radar, in a place where there is no such thing as freedom of speech.

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