The 2014 Winter Olympics will be celebrated from 7 to 23 February 2014 in Sochi, Russia, and the city now has less than a year to finish preparations. But while builders and local authorities are busy developing the infrastructure, building facilities and roads, the Russian media seems to be more focused in disseminating bad news.
If the Russian media, which is supposed to keep the balance and support the country in an effort to create a fair image about the Olympic destination in the world, is working against the purpose, why are we surprised to see negativity coming from athletes and foreign media? I am not saying that the Russian media shouldn’t report the “wrongs” but is there nothing positive happening is Sochi?
Today, News.ru reported that the “madhouse” on a construction site in the city almost costed the life of a Belarusian official, allegedly that Anatoly Drozdov attempted suicide after allegations that he committed mass violations during the construction of Belarusian sites in Sochi. Another article points out since 2012, more than 25 people lost their lives on construction sites in the city.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in early February that migrant workers building sites and infrastructure for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games have been cheated and exploited, publishing a 67-page report documenting the harsh conditions of work for migrant workers on key Olympic sites, including the Central Olympic Stadium, the Main Olympic Village, and the Main Media Center. To create the report, the organization interviewed 66 migrant workers who were involved, one way or another, in the developments. The results revealed a range of abuses and exploitation, including:
- failing to pay full wages, excessively delaying payment of wages, and in some cases failing to pay any wages at all;
- withholding identity documents, such as passports and work permits;
- failing to provide employment contracts, or failure to respect terms of a contract; and requiring excessive working hours and providing little time off;
- employer-provided housing was overcrowded, and employer provided meals were inadequate; and so on.
Migrant workers are not the only ones affected by the games, HRW reports. Local residents had to pay a high price too: some families displaced for Olympic construction, allegedly have lost their homes without compensation. And to make Sochi’s image in the media even darker, here’s the cherry on top: “journalists who seek to report on Olympics-related human rights abuses have faced pressure, harassment, and in some cases, arrest and prosecution.”
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) is a trustworthy organization, and yet, if the situation is so dire in Sochi, if people reporting Olympics-related human rights abuses face prosecution and arrest, what gave Anya Kaladjian and Tatiana Skiba the courage to come forward and show Yulia Gorbunova the Olympic-related problems in their homes?
Today, Nadezhda Skardino, bronze medalist at the 44th Biathlon World Championships in 2011, complained about prices on goods, suggesting that sales people in a store tried to cheat her, by punching in a price ten times higher than the real price. She suggested that foreigners who come to Sochi will not know when they are deceived: “Let us hope that this is just an exception to the rule and that the city slogan (Sochi – a city of spirituality and goodness) speaks the truth.”
The media landscape, no doubt, is inspired by these realities, and Russia officials fail to address the issues. Far from Sochi, the public can only rely on testimonials of athletes who are currently there. And a wave of negativity comes from them too. Sochi is “a ghost town”, the constructions are “a waste of money.” The only positive references talk about the landscape. We don’t learn about hospitality, we don’t learn about hope. Everything is dark. It almost feels like someone is out to paint Russia in the darkest colors possible – and this is not the Olympic spirit we all hoped to see. Is there really nothing good to report?
Featured image, Sochi Olympic flag – Courtesy TofflerAnn.