January 10, 2014

Introduction

Thousands of journalists will attend the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia to report on the Games’ athletic events and ceremonies to millions of sports fans across the globe. The Russian government clearly hopes to elevate the country’s image as the host of a prestigious international event. But human rights abuses and controversies have plagued the preparations almost since the Olympics were awarded to Russia in 2007. Many of those abuses contradict the values in the Olympic Charter and its principle of placing “sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind.” One aspect of these abuses—Russia’s harsh crackdown on media and civil society—has direct implications for journalists covering the Sochi Olympics.

Sochi will be the most expensive Games in Olympics history. But the monetary cost should not eclipse the significant human costs of preparations for the Games, which have been marred by exploitation, illegal detentions, and deportations of migrant construction workers engaged on Olympic venues and other sites in Sochi; forced evictions of Sochi residents and illegal land expropriations to make way for Olympics infrastructure; and harassment of journalists and civil society activists criticizing the preparations for the Games. Olympic construction has also compromised the health, safety, and property of many Sochi residents.  

For the past six months, the preparations for the Games have also taken place in a storm of criticism regarding a law adopted by Russia’s parliament in June 2013 that discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, clashing with the Olympic Charter, which states that “discrimination is inconsistent with belonging to the Olympic movement.” 

Although Russia deserves much credit for committing to an accessible environment for people with disabilities ahead of the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, a significant gap remains between these commitments and the obstacles that remain for people with disabilities in Sochi.

This guide provides an overview of the context and risks for journalists in covering the Olympics and the Paralympics in Sochi. It includes background on the Olympics, human rights abuses related to preparations for the Games, recent cases of interest, and a factual overview of several laws that may affect reporting. The section on press freedom in Russia will be directly relevant to reporters covering Russia beyond the Olympic sites.