Sochi Liveblog: The Games Begin

February 7, 2014

Welcome to The Interpreter’s Sochi Olympics Liveblog, day three. Click here to see yesterday’s Sochi Liveblog: The First Events Start, But is Sochi Really Ready?. Updates are below, so make sure to regularly refresh this screen.

2116 GMT: Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov conducted an in-depth investigation into the corruption surrounding the Olympic games in Sochi. The report highlights how Vladimir Putin personally traveled to Guatemala to lobby the International Olympic Committee to put the Olympics in Sochi. He convinced them that for $12 billion, Russia would be able to host an extravagant and world-class event, a winter Olympics in a city that is really a resort town in the subtropics. Immediately after winning the bid, however, the price skyrocketed more than four-fold. Now, the price tag will hover around $50 billion. Furthermore, as Nemtsov carefully details, the real winners in Sochi will not be the Gold medalists, but instead the friends and colleagues of Vladimir Putin who received the Olympic contracts and effectively extorted tens of billions from Russian taxpayers.

The Institute of Modern Russia has published an interactive website investigating Sochi. The report pays special attention to the delays, cost overruns, environmental damage and human rights abuses surrounding the construction of each Olympic facility, placing each one on an interactive map.

Alexei Navalny, perhaps Putin’s greatest rival, also published an interactive website, translated by The Interpreter, which details how each contractor is connected directly to Putin and/or other powerful political figures in Russia.

Now, Global Post News has created a series of graphics to boil all of that down to a comparative guide of the extravagant costs of these Olympic games.


2058 GMT: The American rock band “Blondie” was offered a contract to play at the Sochi Olympics. Not only did they not take the contract because of Russia’s human rights record, they tweeted out a picture of it:


2045 GMT: One of the highlights of the opening ceremonies was the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. Yahoo Sports reports:

Tennis star Maria Sharapova entered the arena carrying the torch, beginning a procession of Russian athletic legends. She handed the torch off to Yelena Isinbayeva, who handed it to wrestler Aleksandr Karelin, who passed it to gymnast Alina Kabaeva. From there, figure skater Irina Rodnina and Olympic hockey goalie Vladislav Tretiak, both three-time gold medalists, lit the cauldron together in a spectacular pyrotechnic display.

There’s only one small problem: Rodnina has been widely criticized for tweeting racist material:


2018 GMT: A total of 14 activists (4 in St. Petersburg, 10 in Red Square, Moscow) have been arrested so far today for protesting against Russia’s anti “gay propaganda” law, according to The Washington Blade. This video shows the activists who were detained in Red Square while singing the Russian national anthem:

The activists arrested in St. Petersburg were well-known for their stance on Russian laws that they view as homophobic.

Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network, Aleksandra Semenova and a pregnant woman are among the four activists whom St. Petersburg authorities took into custody earlier on Friday. The activists were reportedly trying to take pictures of themselves holding a banner that read “discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic movement. Principle 6. Olympic charter” in reference to a campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter before police took them into custody.

“Detention for a photo with a banner–isn’t it an amazing way to celebrate the opening of the games,” wrote Smirnova on her Facebook page while in custody at a St. Petersburg police station.

The arrests took place a day after U.S. Olympian David Pichler and Human Rights First staffers met with Smirnova, Russian LGBT Network Chair Igor Kochetkov and Maria Kozlovskaya of “Coming Out” in St. Petersburg.

1915 GMT: Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, has given a speech where he touches on the disquieting discontent amongst the athletes and those attending. Here is an excerpt:

To the athletes, you have come here with your Olympic dream. You are welcome, no matter where you come from or your background. Yes, it’s possible even as competitors to live together and to live in harmony with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason. Yes, it is possible even as competitors to listen, to understand and to be an example of a peaceful society, to building bridges and bring people together. The Olympic Games are never about erecting walls or to keep people above. Olympic Games are a sports festival in praising human diversity in great unity. Therefore, I say to political leaders of the world, thank you for supporting your athletes, they are the best ambassador of your country. Have the courage to embrace your disagreements in a peaceful and not political way and not on the back of these athletes.

1900 GMT: Here is the latest on the situation with the hijacked Ukrainian aircraft. According to USA Today, the Pegasus airline flight was flying from Kharkiv , Ukraine, to Istanbul, Turkey, when it was hijacked by a Ukrainian national:

Turkish Samanyolu Haber news channel reported that the hijacker was “neutralized” and apprehended and the evacuation of passengers is expected soon. It said the hijacker was a Ukrainian national and was being interrogated by airport police.

What the motivations of the Ukrainian hijacker were it is still unclear. However, prior to the Olympics all security alerts were related to Russia’s ongoing conflict in the North Caucasus. While this has been going on, however, anti-Russian sentiment in the Ukraine has exploded over the issue of Ukraine entering the European Union. It’s too early to tell if this incident is related to the anti-Yanukovych protests in Ukraine, or even if this is related to the warnings that toothpaste could be used to make a bomb on an airplane, but it highlights the volatile situation that these Olympics are taken place within.

1853 GMT: A backdrop for the Sochi Olympics is the ongoing fight between Circassian seperatists and the Russian government. The Caucasian Knot website is reporting that a protest against the Sochi games by Circassian activists was broken up today:

25 participants in a protest against the Sochi Olympics were arrested today in Nalchik by OVD personnel according to the chairman of the Adyghe Hekuzh – Circassia social movement, Abubekir Murzakan.

Protesters with Circassian flags and banners declaiming Sochi as the “land of genocide” gathered on the square built memorialise the 400th anniversary of the annexation of Kabarda by Russia. Murzakan said that:

There we were detained by an officer and colleagues from the OVD and taken to their office. The arrests were rough, they even broke one guy’s finger. The police officials said that the protest was unauthorised. But this wasn’t a rally, so no applications were made.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Kabardino-Balkaria commented no further than “People have been detained. They are all still under investigation.”

1809 GMT: The Guardian posts this video, which uses celebrities to teach tourists in Russia how to say “where can I buy a rainbow flag” as a method of protest:

As activists are being arrested for waving rainbow flags in Moscow, however, we see that even this small sign of protest is not tolerated in Russia.


1751 GMT: Meanwhile, the Foreign Editor of ABC reports that more activists have been arrested for protesting in Moscow:

activist arrested in Moscow

1740 GMT: AFP adds more details on the hijacking of an Ukrainian airliner:

The man claimed there was a bomb on board the Pegasus Airlines aircraft, tried to gain access to the cockpit and was carrying a detonator, the unconfirmed reports said.

The pilot managed to sound the alert and an F-16 Turkish military jet was scrambled, forcing the plane with some 110 passengers on board to land in Istanbul, the reports said.

But now some journalists are reporting that the situation may not yet be over:

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Interior Minister, Vitaly Zakharchenko has warned of possible “ultra-right” terror attacks during the Olympics. reports that the Ministry of Internal Affairs claims to have evidence of terrorist preparations. The minister claimed that yesterday’s explosion in the Maidan camp, (a parcel bomb marked ‘medicine’ according to activists), was in fact an accidental detonation during bomb-making. He warned:

“Today, on the opening day of the Olympics in Sochi, plotters will try to overshadow the event and draw attention to themselves and their demands with their extremist actions.”

1731 GMT: AFP is reporting a hijack attempt on a flight from Ukraine to Turkey:

An airliner with 110 passengers on board en route from Ukraine was forced Friday by an F-16 military jet to land in Istanbul after a hijack attempt, media reports said.

A Ukrainian passenger is believed to have demanded that the plane be diverted to Sochi, where the Winter Olympics are taking place, and said there was a bomb on board, the unconfirmed reports said.

1728 GMT: Breaking news – there has been a hijacking of a Ukrainian aircraft that appears to be Sochi related. We are following this story and will have another update shortly.

1703 GMT: A Candian Olympian, Justin Kripps, has a brand new website — which he can’t see, because it is blocked in Russia.

“Looks like my website is censored in Russia,” he wrote on Twitter on Friday. “Haha classic #SochiProblems I wonder if there’s a camera in my room.”

The Vancouver-based web developer behind Mr. Kripps’s personal site is investigating why it has been blacklisted, but said suspicion has been raised that the move may be linked to a photo Mr. Kripps tweeted last month of his burly four-man bobsled team in their underwear at a weigh-in. The photo went viral, including in the gay community.

The joke about a camera in his room is a reference to yesterday’s strangest news story. Journalists spent much of Wednesday complaining about the horrible conditions of their hotel rooms. A Russian Olympic official responded by saying that journalists had sabotaged the rooms themselves. How did the official know? They have cameras in the showers:

Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, reflected the view held among many Russian officials that some Western visitors are deliberately trying to sabotage Sochi’s big debut out of bias against Russia. “We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day,” he said. An aide then pulled a reporter away before Mr. Kozak could be questioned further on surveillance in hotel rooms. “We’re doing a tour of the media center,” the aide said.

1648 GMT: Yet another sign that Russia is going to have a hard time recouping $50 billion of Russian taxpayer money — the attendance at the games is shockingly low. This was taken just before the start of the opening ceremony:

Empty Seats

But the seats never filled up:


1630 GMT: Several activists have been arrested today, and several more have been stopped from boarding flights to Russia.

The group “Human Rights in Russia” (HRO) reports:

Dmitry Berdnikov, leader of the civil society movement ‘Against crime and lawlessness’ was detained this morning at Kazan airport while going through passport controls.

‘I was about to fly to the Olympics in Sochi, said Berdnikov in a call to the Kazan bureau of the Novaya gazeta newspaper. I have tickets to the games. I had already checked in my luggage and went through registration, but when I was boarding the plane I was stopped by police officials. They told me that one of the pages of my passport was damaged. Now I am at a police station. The plane has already taken off’.

There are other reports of arrests in other cities, such as Moscow:

This relates to our previous update below:


1618 GMT: Four protesters have been arrested in St. Petersburg for simply carrying a banner that said “Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement,” a quote from Principle 6 of the Olympic charter.

Buzzfeed quotes other activists as suggesting that Russian police must be monitoring central areas of major cities to break up protests as soon as they begin to emerge:

“Either the phones are being listened to or maybe there are cameras all over the city; only a few people knew about this action,” said the activist, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear for her safety.

1602 GMT: Did a Russian snowboarder take to the slopestyle on a snowboard painted to resemble Pussy Riot?

Alexey Sobolev’s snowboard has many images on it, including the picture of a woman, wearing a balaclava, a ski mask that Pussy Riot members wear while performing, and holding a knife.

Alexey Sobolov's snowboard may have a Pussy Riot member on it (Sergey Ilnitsky / EPA / February 6, 2014)

Alexey Sobolov’s snowboard may have a Pussy Riot member on it (Sergey Ilnitsky / EPA / February 6, 2014)

Sobolev gave vague answers to questions about the board:

The Russian news agency R-Sport earlier asked Sobolev if the design was an “homage” to the band.

“Anything is possible,” Sobolev told R-Sport, also telling the reporter that he was not the designer of the board.

1538 GMT: The Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion is having plenty of fun criticizing Russia’s policies towards homosexuals. They have released this little video where they point out that the Olympics have always been “a little gay.”

1518 GMT: A quick look at the Russian-language Twittersphere reveals some interesting criticism of the Sochi games.

Mikhail Delyagin, director of the Problems issued by Globalization Institute, and a former politician, commented on the corruption and crassness of the Sochi Games at a press conference in Moscow on Wednesday, reported here. While stating that the security risks from terrorism were, although genuine, were a “forgiveable” risk given the threats posed by terrorists in general, he said:

“But we will not forgive everyday rudeness and the attitude towards people as if they are wallets on legs, when they take money out of their pockets while providing no services in return. This is the main reason why Russians didn’t want to holiday in Sochi… A lot has been done, the city has been made habitable, but there is no certainty that it this is enough for the Olympics… There is also a sporting risk. We have already seen a doping scandal (involving the biathletes Irina Starykh and Yekaterina Yureva).”

Meanwhile, the indispensable Leonid Ragozin, a former BBC and Russian Newsweek reporter, makes a blunt observation:

Also, if you go to today, you’ll find a rainbow colored Olympic theme, perhaps a subliminal dig at Russia’s homophobic laws and culture:

Google sochi logo

Well, Ragozin has Tweeted a remix of that image, originally made by Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny:

Ragozin Google spoof

1500 GMT: A Russian trade war has played a part in pushing Ukraine’s President to reject his country’s bid for membership in the European Union. That decision has led Ukraine to the brink, with protests, and riots, grinding Ukraine to a halt.

We’ll see what kind of reception he gets in Sochi:

“Viktor Yanukovych has arrived in Sochi to boost the morale of Ukrainian athletes”

1450 GMT: In the oddest development so far today, Olympic organizers have announced that tATu, the Russian pop group famous for their (faux) lesbian antics, will be part of the opening ceremony. Russian state-owned Ria NOVOSTI reports:

Commenting on their appearance at show, its creative director Konstantin Ernst said the duo’s role would be a bit-part at best.

“tATu are performing at the pre-show, where various popular artists will be on show,” Ernst said. ” tATu is one of the few groups that is world famous, although most of the ceremony is built upon classical and symphonic music,” he said.

If readers are unfamiliar with the group, they made international controversy in 2002 when they released their video for “All the Things She Said,” in which the two, both under the age of 18, kissed and embraced in the rain:

1430 GMT: The @inter Olympics opening ceremony is just a few hours away, but the central controversy — Russia’s homophobic policies and laws — have once again taken central stage. UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon is attending the games, dressed in a multicolored tracksuit and carrying the Olympic torch.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach hands over the Olympic torch to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as the torch relay arrives in Sochi on Thursday for the Winter Olympics. Photo: AP

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach hands over the Olympic torch to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as the torch relay arrives in Sochi on Thursday for the Winter Olympics. Photo: AP

But when Moon addressed the International Olympic Committee, his words were less festive. Likely a reference to Russia’s laws against “gay propaganda,” Moon condemned homophobia and said that hatred “had no place in the 21st century.”

“We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender or intersex people. We must oppose the arrests, imprisonment and discriminatory restrictions they face,” he said.

A Russian official, Dmitry Chernyshenko, President of the Sochi Olympic Organizing Committee, responded by saying that nothing would happen to those who spoke out to gay rights, but he reiterated that sports, not politics, should be the focus:

“I mean that during the sporting competitions, the Olympic games, the Olympic charter is in effect, and its rules prohibit all kinds of propaganda, no matter what, because this is a festival of sport. Let’s talk about sport, not politics.”