A Ryerson perspective on Putin’s games

Media will cover the Games under the watchful eye of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Erica Whyte / Ryersonian Staff

Media will cover the Games under the watchful eye of Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Erica Whyte/Ryersonian staff)

The road to Sochi has been full of bumps, debris, roadkill, pylons, and gravel, among a number of other growing safety concerns.

In the days leading up to the Russian-hosted Olympics there were also death threats, anti-gay threats, alleged corruption and the most invasive surveillance in the history of the Games.

“Sochi is safe,” United State President Barrack Obama assured CNN this week. But a series of events leading up to this year’s Olympics has indicated otherwise. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has made it clear that authorities will be monitoring the actions of everyone at the Games.

However, this news will not stop CBC’s executive producer, and Ryerson instructor, Mark Bulgutch from doing his job while covering the Games this month. “It won’t change a thing. The CBC has bought the rights to the Games from the IOC, not from Russia,” Bulgutch said. “Russia doesn’t run the Games, officially. The IOC runs the Games.”

The 14-time Gemini Award winner is there to do a job, and he doesn’t plan on having politics interfere with that fact. “I am going for sports. This is an Olympics … There are news people there covering it as a news event, and sports is mandated to cover it as a sporting event,” he said.

“I know CBC has a plan to deal with how Sochi got the Games, the security issues, the gay rights issues … but (the CBC) sports mandate is to cover sports, first and foremost.”

Bulgutch insists that the panic leading up to these Olympic Games, and specifically about Putin, is unwarranted. “What’s he going to do? Kill us out? Not gonna happen … I could get killed waiting for a bus. People get killed doing absolutely innocent things,” he said. “I certainly don’t want anything to happen to me there, but in life you take certain risks.”

Ryerson student Winston Chow is in Sochi as a photographer for the Canadian Olympic Committee. He described over email that Russian security is “very visible,” but he has “been advised not to comment in general on security.”

Concerns about this year’s Olympics vary. Safety is clearly an issue, but so is terrorism, human rights, corruption, waste and overspending.

Recently, the U.S. Department of State released a travel alert for Americans travelling to Russia for the Games. According to Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, any foreign citizen can be fined, jailed, or deported if they promote LGBT equality in public. The alert also advised U.S. athletes not to wear any team-issued uniform gear outside the venues, saying it could make them targets.

Former Canadian Olympian and current Ryerson student Tyler Nella feels fortunate that he participated in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, and will not be in Sochi this year.

Former Canadian Olympian Tyler Nella competed at the 2010 Games. Courtesy tylernella.ca

Former Canadian Olympian Tyler Nella competed at the 2010 Games.
(courtesy tylernella.ca)

“I feel lucky that my Olympic time was when Vancouver was hosting. It was an amazing environment to be a part of. You would walk anywhere, and everyone would be smiling, and cheering, and wishing you good luck. It was a three-week-long party basically. The energy was unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t think Sochi will have that vibe.”

While this year’s Games have obvious security concerns, Nella says it was “100 per cent safe” in Vancouver. “There was obviously security at the gates of events, but there wasn’t a mob of security guards patrolling around or anything,” he said. “Everyone was so friendly and the positive energy coming from everyone was overwhelming.”

However, regardless of what is going on during any Olympic games, Nella said athletes shouldn’t get distracted from their goals.

“At the end of the day, the external factors need to be put aside,” he said. “Even in Whistler, when everything was super positive, you have to block that all out to focus on your race. Same goes for Sochi.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on February 5, 2014.

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