Maggie: We are less than a month away from the Winter Games. It will be the first Olympics hosted by Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now Scott Evans tells us how Russia is getting ready for the world’s spotlight.
Scott: Russia is racing to finish the Olympic venue by the opening ceremonies on February 7th. But finishing construction is just one of many challenges facing the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Olympic torch is making its first appearance in southern Russia. The flame made its way to the city of Volgograd, where terrorists struck with two suicide bombings last month.
Michael Morell: You’ve got Sochi very near the part of Russia where extremists have spent a lot of time.
Scott: Yesterday, a video surfaced showing an Islamic militant group from southern Russia claiming responsibility for the Volgograd attacks and promised a, quote, “present for those attending the Olympic games”. And authorities are now concerned about so-called ‘black widows,’ women who become terrorists to seek revenge because Russian forces killed their husbands.
The U.S. State Department has already issued a warning to Americans planning to attend the Winter Games, saying they should stay vigilant and exercise good judgment. And U.S. lawmakers want more cooperation with Russia to make sure Americans stay safe.
Congressman Mike Rogers: I think they think this is a politically embarrassing situation for them, and they are not going to share. That’s really the wrong attitude when you’re talking about an international event.
Scott: Russian president Vladimir Putin says his country will do whatever it takes to keep the games safe, including an operation called the ‘ring of steel,’ calling up 40,000 police and military personnel to patrol the fortified area around the Olympic site. But security isn’t the only issue. Sochi finally got its first snow of the season over the weekend and numbers are down for spectators of the games so far. Travel agents are seeing far less bookings compared to past Olympics and tickets to events are still available. Normally they sell out months before the games.
Sochi is also a hard place to get to. Located on the Black Sea at the foothills of the Caucus Mountains, travelling there can take over thirty hours and requires multiple connections and costs thousands of dollars. Then what about hotel rooms? Booking one is almost impossible because many are still being built.
Russia’s new anti-gay laws are also causing concern. Putin has promised that no one will be discriminated against, but the U.S. State Department warned Americans not to make any public statements there in support of homosexuality. And then there is the cost. At $50 billion, the Sochi games will be the most expensive in history.
Lee Igel: Sochi is going to raise questions for the International Olympic Committee going forward in terms of its bid process to which cities or countries it selects to host the games.
Scott: And raising the question for Russia is it all worth it?
Scott Evans, Channel One News.
Maggie: U.S. officials are creating evacuation plans for the 1,500 Americans already scheduled to go to the games. But they say a large-scale evacuation from Sochi will be difficult.