The Black Sea resort of Sochi is hosting the Winter Olympics from February 7-23. For two weeks all eyes will be on Russia, where athletes will compete for 98 medals in 15 disciplines.
Switzerland has sent its biggest Winter Games delegation ever, and Swiss Olympic has set a target of ten medals for its 163 athletes.
Representing the Swiss government, Didier Burkhalter, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, will attend the opening ceremony. Sports Minister Ueli Maurer will arrive during the event and Interior Minister Alain Berset will make an appearance during the Paralympic Games following the Winter Olympics.
Other politicians will also be making the trip to Sochi, thereby brushing off calls by Swiss politicians from all parties to boycott the event because of Russian laws regarding homosexuality. Swiss human rights and gay organisations aren’t calling for a boycott, but instead want to see Swiss politicians push for the implementation of civil rights in Russia.
Then there’s the House of Switzerland, which is looking forward to hosting as many medal parties as possible as the Sochi hub for Swiss athletes and fans. The specially constructed wooden building also aims to present Switzerland to the world as a top winter sports nation.
As the Games approach, the media hype should drown out the hefty criticism so far, which has included the ballooning costs from a planned $12 billion (CHF10.9 billion) to a record $50 billion. In addition, critics have cited massive reported corruption, the Winter Games being held in a subtropical climate as a prestige project of Russian President Putin, dispossessions, forced evictions, deteriorating human rights and environmental crimes.
Sochi will also go down as the Olympics with the biggest security presence, after bomb attacks in nearby Volgograd in December killed 34 people. North Caucasus separatists have warned of “presents” in the form of further attacks during the Games.
This dark side of the Games has been illuminated by photographer Rob Hornstra and journalist Arnold van Bruggen in their photo book “The Sochi Project: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus”. The pair spent five years touring Sochi and the neighbouring regions, meticulously documenting changes in places, inhabitants and landscapes. They have since been banned from entering Russia.
(Text: Renat Küenzi, swissinfo.ch. Images from “The Sochi Project. An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus” by Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen. Aperture-Verlag 2013)