Welcome to Sochi: Poverty and the Olympic Games
Sochi, Russia makes the news almost every day. Whether it be about the enormous security being put in place for the forth coming Olympic Games or the various political leaders who are boycotting the games to demonstrate their displeasure at Russian anti-LGBT law. What is left out of the news however are Russia’s poor.
There are currently 18 million Russians living on or below the minimum wage of 4,600 rubles, according to Forbes Magazine. That is the equivalent of $155 a month, in a country whose cost of living is 6,200 rubles or $210. In the United States by comparison, there are 46.5 million people living at or below the poverty line which according to the Huffington Post in 2012 was $23, 283 annually. That works out to around $1940.25 per month.
By the time the 2014 Winter Olympics occur, Sochi will have had spent $51 billion, making it the most expensive Olympic Games to date. However all is not well even inside Sochi, Human Rights Watch has put out a 67 page document detailing some of the abuses that many of the migrant workers have been subjected to while working to prepare Sochi for the Games.
Human Rights Watch points out that the majority of these workers are paid between $1.80 and $2.60 an hour working on constructing the various Olympic venues. Moreover, in an interview with the Washington Post, 64-year-old resident of Sochi, Alexander Dzhadze lives on a pension of $170 a month and was told to make improvements to it in order for it to be an acceptable part of Sochi’s backdrop.
There have also been accusations of corruption concerning the issuing of construction contracts dealing with the Games. For instance, two lifelong friends of Vladimir Putin, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg have received upwards of 21 contracts and $7 billion.
The gap between rich and poor in Russia is also widening. According to Bloomberg, the 110 billionaires in Russia own 35% of the planet’s wealth, in comparison, worldwide billionaires only account for 1 to 2% of the world’s wealth.
The Olympic Games are a time for nations to come together and share in the joy that is the competitive spirit of the sporting world. The games are a chance for nations to shine and to reconnect with their citizens and the athletes who represent them.
Russia’s foray thus far into the Olympics has been met with scandals, allegations of criminal activity and a myriad of other issues and conflicts. However, the Games have also given those in Russia whose plight would have remained a mystery had the games not come to Sochi, a voice and platform from which to tell and share their stories and experiences with the outside world.
This opportunity can result in media exposure for Russia’s poor and will hopefully allow for new and exciting opportunities for them once the Olympics begin. As the Games approach, the world can only wait and see how they will unfold.
– Arthur Fuller
Sources: Mother Jones, Forbes, Business Week, Washington Post