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The 2014 Winter Games: Expecting the Unexpected in Sochi

Sochi-2014-Olympics-829732There were no ski resorts in Russia before it won the bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Now, three different ski areas are under construction, in addition to 30,000 hotel rooms and a high-speed train to take spectators from the airport to the mountain resort area.

But despite multi-billion-dollar preparations, it’s hard to know what to expect from the Games, which open on Feb. 7, 2014, said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor and GWSB’s director of sport management programs, who has been to 16 previous Olympics.

Issues such as whether Russia and the United States will be involved in the Syria conflict, and how Russia will enforce a new, national anti-gay propaganda law that has been broadly criticized by human rights advocates, make for an unsettled outlook less than a month before the Olympic torch relay starts in Moscow, on Oct. 7, passing 83 Russian cities en route to the opening ceremonies.

“I don’t know what the atmosphere is going to be,” said Delpy Neirotti, who visited Sochi in November 2012.  “The Russians are going to put on a spectacular event, even thought there are a lot of questions and concerns.”

Lisa Delpy Neirotti at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

Lisa Delpy Neirotti at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

Students enrolled in Delpy Neirotti’s class, “International Experience:  Behind the Scenes at the Winter Olympic Games,” will travel to the Sochi games to collect data and learn about business aspects of the Olympics as part of the course requirements.

The class is open to graduate and undergraduate students.  Delpy Neirotti is hosting an information session [Funger 221, 6 p.m., Mon., Sept. 23] for anyone interested in learning more about the trip.

One outstanding question is what will happen to those who may demonstrate for gay rights.  Russian officials have said they won’t discriminate against gays at the Olympics but have also warned that a law signed by President Vladimir Putin in July will be enforced.

The law makes it illegal to expose minors to information that portrays “nontraditional sexual relationships” as normal or attractive.  “There are a lot of pro-gay athletes,” said Delpy Neirotti.  The law imposes fines and subjects foreigners to up to 15 days in prison.

There are also more mundane issues. Russian authorities, for instance, are requiring onerous amounts of documentation for Olympic credentials, except for athletes, said Delpy Neirotti. Also, hotel staff in the remote Black Sea region are not accustomed to throngs of foreign tourists. At one point in November, Delpy Neirotti said she couldn’t even get a claim tag to check baggage at a hotel.

On the other hand, Sochi’s exoticism may entice some visitors. And Russia’s athletes, said Delpy Neirotti, often form a flamboyant and spirited delegation.  Moreover, many previous Olympics, such as the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing that were used by human rights advocates as an opportunity to confront China on abuses, have gone on despite international concerns and crises.

When all is said and done in Sochi, “The Russians could be celebrating with vodka, and we could have a great time,” she said.

 

Posted by gwsb on September 10, 2013 | Filed under: GWSB News.


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