Political Groups Denied Access to Sochi Games

By Simone Salvo

Former Olympian and mayor of Sochi’s Olympic village, Svetlana Zhurova, is calling on protesters to re-think their plans to speak up on behalf of LGBT Russians, construction workers, and the environment. She stated, “I have never seen (this) at any Olympic Games and I would call on the people who are going to protest, that it doesn’t make sense.”

Zhurova seems to have selective memory. Protests and boycotts, similarly in the name of human rights, garnered significant attention before the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, China. Feeling the rage of Tibet, Darfur, and Burma activists, China denied nearly all applications for groups and individuals seeking admittance to the protest zones set up for the Games.

Russia seems to be taking moves right out of the Beijing playbook. At first, it seemed welcome news when Putin eased the protest bans in August and the IOC confirmed plans for specially designated protest areas. But situated under a highway on the outskirts of Sochi, away from the cameras and action contained in the now infamous “ring of steel,” the protest zones stifle rather than enable speech. Admittance requires permission from the municipal authorities. I think we know where Svetlana Zhurova will stand on those decisions.

Zhurova isn’t the only one claiming that the Olympics are and should remain apolitical. During an event attended by Vladimir Putin, IOC President Thomas Bach urged leaders to “have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes.”

But measures to keep spectators away from the events because of their political views are actually making the Games highly political. The New York Times reports: “The Russian Olympic Committee has quietly prohibited several Russian political activists from attending sporting events by denying them  documents known as Olympic passports, or fan passes, which spectators need in addition to tickets to gain access to  sporting venues.”

Member of the Democratic Choice party Sergei Fadeyev, whose fan pass has been revoked, said in an interview, “They don’t have any other grounds not to allow me to go. I have no criminal background. I’m not a terrorist…My rights simply don’t exist.”

Political profiling is a far cry from “peaceful direct political dialogue” and a shoddy excuse for security. As it hosts an event with the tradition of bringing people together, Russia seems intent on driving them apart.

A delegation from Human Rights First including gay U.S. Olympian David Pichler are on their way to Sochi to stand with LGBT Russians. Let’s hope Russian officials allow them into the Olympic village.

Photo: Svetlana Zhurova, a former Russian speed skater and ‘mayor’ of Sochi’s Olympic Village, shows her Olympic medal during a news conference. (MAXIM SHEMETOV / REUTERS)

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Published on February 5, 2014

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