The Strange Tale of Security at the Sochi Olympics

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Amid predictions of unavoidable terrorist attacks, whether from the Black Widows, a group of female Chechens who’ve lost husbands in previous conflicts with Russia, or from extremists acting on their own with explosives enclosed in tubes of toothpaste, Russian officials are cracking down on security for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Dr. Gordon Woo, a risk management analyst with Risk Management Solutions, said of the security situation, “Because of the history between the Russians and the Chechen people who splintered to form the Caucasus Emirate, Sochi is a prime target for terrorism.”

Security Regulations Run the Gamut from Ridiculous to Invasive

While there’s no doubt Russian security forces have to be diligent to protect athletes and their families and tourists heading to the Olympic grounds, critics aren’t so sure every security mandate is necessary. Many of the rules are normal — no firearms and the like — but others are simply ridiculous. For instance, signs in Sochi bathrooms warn guests not to fish in the toilets. Of course, this is to say nothing of the anti-gay laws currently being enforced in Russia. Whether you’re a native of the communist stronghold or you’re a visitor, any outwardly gay activity is frowned upon, despite Putin assuring visitors that gays will be safeguarded against the law, so long as they “leave children alone.”

Aside from rules based purely on a political or theological stance, the country is taking many normal security checks to extremes. It’s not terribly unusual to be subjected to a scan from a metal detector anymore; getting on a plane or heading into a football stadium will subject you to the same sort of inspection. However, beyond scanning bodies and bags for potentially dangerous contraband, Russian police have said they will be following through on background checks for Olympics attendees. Add that to the random passport and visa checks Russian security is entitled to carry out, with or without cause, and you have an Olympics environment  becoming more of a police state than one befitting an international celebration.

Preparing to Handle Security in Sochi

In general, passing a security check and avoiding any further interference while you attend the games is a matter of following International Olympic Committee security guidelines and those established through Russian law. The IOC maintains an exhaustively detailed website, noting everything from decorum, to allowed medications, to what you can and cannot say via social media while attending the games.

If you’re not up to reading the IOC guidelines, you should at least keep the most important suggestions in mind:

  • Keep your passport with you at all times. Failure to present the proper documents during an inspection will land you in Butryka Prison faster than you can say “Borscht.”

  • Likewise, keep an especially close watch on your spectator registration card or guest pass.

  • Watch how much you have to drink, avoid damaging anything that doesn’t belong to you, and — this one is crucial — remember that your words can’t flow as freely in Russia as they can in other parts of the world. The last time someone spoke poorly about the government, for example, members of a rock band wound up in jail.

Russian security officials are understandably skittish when it comes to the safety of the Olympic games. While many of the rules and regulations that have cropped up are truly matters of bigotry and overreaction, most are meant to protect Olympians, their families, and their fans. Act with common sense, and follow the tips we’ve laid out to ensure your Olympic experience is memorable for the right reasons.

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