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Volume 6 No. 214
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Rights Group Claims Russia Exploits Migrant Workers At Sochi's Olympic Venues

A human rights group said that migrant workers helping Russia prepare for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi are "being cheated out of wages and denied adequate rest, food and housing," according to Sonia Elks of REUTERS. A senior Russian official said that the accusations by N.Y.-based Human Rights Watch were "exaggerated" and that the government was "monitoring workers' rights closely." Human Rights Watch said that more than 16,000 migrant workers had come to Sochi, on Russia's Black Sea coast, in the hope of "finding work, largely in the construction of Olympic facilities." In a report based on interviews with 66 of the workers, it said they were suffering "consistent patterns of abuse" in poorly paid jobs.It said that such workers had come from Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. A Ukrainian worker said, "People work, they don't get paid, and leave. Then a bus comes and unloads a fresh group of workers to repeat the cycle" (REUTERS, 2/6).

UNLAWFUL CONDITIONS: BLOOMBERG's Meyer & Arkhipov reported workers were earning between $1.80 and $2.60 an hour. Human Rights Watch said that the migrants were "housed in overcrowded accommodation and fed insufficiently given the long hours they worked." Shifts typically last 12 hours from 8am to 8pm and 8pm to 8am for seven days a week with one day off every two weeks, which is "in violation of Russian law." Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak, who is responsible for the Olympics preparations, said that while "abuses of workers’ rights may be occurring, they are not on a large scale." With 96,000 workers employed by 500 companies on 800 construction sites, Kozak said, "it would be impossible not to have such incidents" (BLOOMBERG, 2/6).

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: In Moscow, Irina Filatova reported after winning the Olympic bid in '07, Russia's authorities "started a massive upgrade of infrastructure" in Sochi, which is getting new roads and railroads, luxury hotels and state-of-the art stadiums. Unlike in the Soviet era, when hosting the Olympics was "universally perceived as a matter of national pride, some Russians don't appreciate the government's efforts." Despite official promises that preparations for the games will make Sochi a better place to live, locals said that they are "tired of living on a big construction site, as the resort town has frequently been referred to over the last few years." Sochi meat factory worker Alexander Bugayov said, "Construction work is everywhere, all the roads and pavement are dug up, there's mud and trash all around." Some were "harsher in their judgment." Sochi real estate agent Andrei Gavrilov said, "Most of us don't really care about these Olympics, and most won't go watch the games, especially if they hike prices." Gavrilov said that there is "hope the city will benefit from hosting the games," with investment in transportation infrastructure "widely expected to improve the traffic situation." However, he "doubted that the huge expenditures on construction of sports facilities would pay off." Gavrilov said, "The local population lived OK even before the Olympics" (MOSCOW TIMES, 2/6).

DECISION QUESTIONED: In London, Miriam Elder wrote on the GUARDIAN's The Sport Blog many "continue to wonder just why Russia chose the city of Sochi, the country's preferred Soviet-era summer getaway, as the site of the 2014 Games." Even in winter, temperatures rarely dip below 12C (54F) -- a "rare thing in a country synonymous with winter and snow." Sochi is a "favourite destination" for President Vladimir Putin. For Putin, the Olympics are "not only about sport and glory but also about presenting a Russia that is modern and open to the world." Much work "remains to be done" around the city, but nearly all the main sport venues have been built and have begun test runs. Russia Organizing Committee member Dmitry Grigoriev, who oversees the Adler Arena, which is used for speed skating, said, "Is it perfect? I guess not. But there is no better ice rink in the world. There's a saying that the devil is in the details. Our task is to make sure there is no devil" (GUARDIAN, 2/6). R-SPORT reported the rate of Olympic construction for the Sochi Games has "left the IOC incredulous with a year to go" until the Opening Ceremony. IOC Coordination Committee Head Jean-Claude Killy told Putin on a visit to the resort Wednesday that "it was difficult to envision such a high level of preparedness now when the country started construction from scratch." Killy said, "It’s difficult to believe that the promises you gave in Guatemala in 2007 have become the reality" (R-SPORT, 2/6).

NHL APPEARS SOCHI BOUND: TSN reported it is "highly likely, just short of a foregone conclusion," that the NHL will be "shutting down 16 days in the middle of next season to allow its players to participate" at the Sochi Games. It is not a foregone conclusion because the NHL and the NHLPA are "looking for a better deal" from the IIHF and the IOC "in terms of player participation for the Olympics." The better deal does not concern monetary reasons, but rather "better access to the players -- the use of images, the use of video, as well as accommodation and tickets." There will be "a meeting next week between the IOC, the IIHF, the NHL and the NHLPA and it's a united front for the most part -- NHL and NHLPA -- trying to get this better deal" (TSN, 2/5).

CHEFS DE MISSION: More than 200 participants from more than 75 countries are participating in the National Olympic Committee's Chefs de Mission Seminar -- the traditional reporting event of the Organizing Committee -- in Sochi (Sochi 2014).