Sochi Games: The 4 biggest problems (aside from terrorism) unlikely to be solved by start of Winter Games
Published Monday, December 30, 2013 7:07PM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 30, 2013 7:10PM EST
Two back-to-back suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd have cast a spotlight on security concerns ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, which start in February. But concerns about the Sochi Games have been mounting for some time.
With less than six weeks before the opening ceremonies, here's a look at four other issues plaguing the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Anti-gay 'propaganda bill'
While Russian officials have promised that gay rights will be respected during the Games, they also say that authorities will be enforcing a controversial law that bans the spread of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations."
Foreigners who violate the law could face fines and up to 15 days in jail. The law has prompted backlash from athletes, activists and politicians.
Following months of global protests, the International Olympic Committee ruled in September it was "fully satisfied" that the law didn't violate the anti-discrimination guarantees of the Olympic charter.
However, the IOC ruling didn't stop the backlash. Earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper both said they would not be attending the Games, prompting speculation that the snub was in response to the anti-gay law.
Obama deliberately appointed two openly gay athletes, Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow, to the U.S. delegation.
The Sochi Games are shaping up to be the costliest Olympics in history. Originally budgeted at about $12 billion, the price tag has skyrocketed to an estimated $51 billion.
Amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement, then-IOC President Jacques Rogge defended the cost earlier this year, saying he was "impressed" with Sochi’s “high quality” Olympic venues. Rogge told The Associated Press that a great deal of the money is going to infrastructure projects, including new roads and railways.
Angered by the cost overruns, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly berated a senior member of the Russian Olympic Committee in February and demanded that he be fired.
Torch relay mishaps
The four-month Olympic torch relay has been plagued with disasters, including two torch bearers reportedly catching fire.
In October, reports surfaced that a 13-year-old girl suffered burns while carrying the torch. And in November, a leak in the torch caused Russia’s Olympic bobsledder Pyotr Makarchuk's clothes to catch fire while he was carrying the torch in Siberia. Luckily, he was unhurt.
The flame of the Olympic torch, which has travelled more than 65,000 kilometres, including a short trek in space, has gone out several times ahead of the Sochi Games.
In one instance, the flame went out moments after Vladimir Putin raised it in Moscow's Red Square during a ceremony in October. The torch was eventually re-lit with a Zippo lighter.
Weather: A problem money can't solve
If you search the web for images of Sochi, you’ve got to be scratching your head and wondering, "What are those palm trees doing here?"
Sochi is a resort city with a humid, subtropical climate – averaging 18.4 C during the day. In the winter months, the temperature goes down to about 10 C at night. For example, the forecast for Jan. 1, 2014 is 10 C and sunny, with a low of 4 C at night.
The good news for the Olympics? The weather in this region is volatile, and if the temperatures do drop, let it snow.
The bad news? If it does start snowing, winter can get serious – and a snowstorm could last for two or three days and cause problems for transportation and grooming of event hills. They call them “Snow Cyclones” in this part of the world.
Vladimir Putin's biggest critic, Boris Nemtsov, has published a series of criticisms of the Russian president’s bungling of the Olympics, and points to the initial decision to hold the Winter Games in a summer resort as the initial great folly. Much of the construction is being done on swampland, he says, and to build on this soil is "simply madness."
Politics aside, Geocurrents magazine created some tables showing the Sochi climate to be comparable to that of Portland, Oregon in the United States.
"In the United States, the notion that Portland has a subtropical climate would seem quaint if not ludicrous," Geocurrents Martin Lewis writers. "From the Russian perspective, however, Sochi definitely is subtropical."