The Sochi Olympics are going to look more like a far-off warzone, or a setting straight out of a George Orwell novel, than an event that historically has brought together people of different culture, nationality, religion, race, and sex to participate in the universal love for sports.
On Jan. 4, the National Post had a two-page spread that featured a title, capitalized, italicized, and bolded, that read, “IS SOCHI safe from TERRORISTS?” The spread featured Russian police guarding a train station in Volgograd, the site of a terrorist bombing on Dec. 29, on the left, and a veiled woman holding a pistol on the right. The fear mongering was apparent.
There is a legitimate reason why the Russian authorities, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and those attending the Sochi Olympics should fear terrorism in Russia at this time.
The Volgograd terrorist bombing of a train station left 17 dead, and the bombing of an electric streetcar left another 14 dead in an attack being pinned on the rising militant Jihadist movement in the Russian Caucuses.
There is little doubt that, prior to the Volgograd terrorist attacks, Putin’s government was going to be lax on security measures anyhow, but the bombings brought to light the extent to which the Russians are carrying out their Draconian measures.
There will be 100 “Platsun” scout robots – six-wheeled remote controlled cars – that will scan the Olympic grounds thermally; 5,500 CCTV cameras were installed as a part of the “Safe Sochi” initiative; 42,000 police officers and 10,000 Interior Ministry troops will be present; 421 drones will be deployed; six Pantsir-S short-range air defence systems have been stationed in the region; every person entering every event will be patted down and sent through a body-scanner similar to the ones causing controvery in North American airports; access to Sochi by motor vehicles will be prohibited by law; and just about every conversation happening within Sochi’s “safe zone” will be monitored by Russian intelligence, who will be listening in for specific words that may indicate terrorism.
This militarization of large-scale public events is not something happening behind the veil of the Iron Curtain, either. The Kentucky Derby, the World Series, and the Super Bowl have the National Guard deployed in full uniform, around the perimeter of the stadiums and inside, and even the Canadian Army was employed to provide security during the Vancouver Olympics.
What is happening here is the normalization of massive, right-infringing security measures in the name of “terrorism” at public events. If the revelations that have been made about the NSA’s world-wide spy ring were upsetting and considered a gross misconduct of human rights to privacy, then surely the measures being taken at Olympics and other such events are no better.
Terrorism is real; no one argues against that. Measures ought to be taken to ensure the safety of people attending sporting events – no one would argue against that either. There is a line though, and it seems to be drawn in sand, because it continually keeps moving the scope of acceptable security measures.
Torontonians that stuck around for the G20 know far too well what overstepping security measures can do to a society. If hosting international sporting events is becoming an excuse to adopt security measures that are normally applied in warzones, not our homes, then we must beg a couple questions.
Firstly, is it worth it? Secondly, will we be duped into trading personal freedoms for security? Thirdly, and lastly, if we need to deploy the army and secret services to such an extent just to host the Olympics and stave off potential terrorism, is it not time our foreign policies were revisited?
These are all questions that ought to be discussed before the Pan-Am games arrive to Southern Ontario in 2015.