Chechnya's "Kremlin-backed strongman" said that "a rebel leader who has threatened to attack the Sochi Olympics is dead," according to the AP. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said Thursday on his Instagram that Doku Umarov, a Chechen warlord who urged his fighters to strike the Sochi Olympics, "has died." Kadyrov said that the information about Umarov's death "came from intercepted communications between other rebel leaders who were discussing his replacement" (AP, 1/16).
EXPANDING SECURITY: In N.Y., Lukas I. Alpert reported Russia's parliament "took up a bill Wednesday that would expand the powers of the country's security forces in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, allowing them to search people and cars without a warrant." Irina Yarovaya, head of the State Duma's security committee from the governing United Russia party, said, "We need strong measures to punish and defend against those who would commit terrorist acts." She "sponsored the legislation, which is widely expected to pass." The draft bill would grant the Federal Security Service, or FSB, "permission to search people and vehicles they suspect of being involved in terrorism -- powers that Russia's regular police forces already have -- and would allow the government to monitor money transfers more closely to stop terrorist financing." It would "also create stiffer penalties for those crimes." The bill could be enacted before the Olympics begin on Feb. 7, "if parliament moves quickly" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/16).
The Sochi Olympics are "starting to look as if many fans have decided to give them a miss," according to Carol Matlack of BLOOMBERG. Listings of tickets put up for resale on a “fan to fan” website have risen almost 50% over the past week, with more than 3,100 offers now posted. Most offers "include multiple tickets, up to a maximum eight per offer." The U.S. website of CoSport, the exclusive ticket agent for North America and most of Western Europe, "still lists seats available for some sought-after events such as the gold-medal match in men’s ice hockey." EU Secondary Ticketing Association Secretary Marlies Hoedemaker said that the growing inventory on the fan-to-fan site suggests “availability is far greater than demand.” Hoedemaker added that some buyers "may have changed their minds about going," while others "may have bet -- unsuccessfully -- that if they bought tickets early they could resell them at a profit later when supplies ran low." The Sochi organizing committee "hasn’t said how many tickets were available overall." About 1.5 million tickets were sold for events at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The Sochi committee has said that 70% of tickets "were reserved for Russians" (BLOOMBERG, 1/15).
JAPANESE TOURS SELL: KYODO reported tour operators said that sales "have been brisk." This is "contrary to concerns that Japanese tourists might be put off by high-priced tours" to Sochi. Japan travel agency JTB Corp. said that it has "already met its sales target for individual customers." This is "despite the fact that prices were 1.5 times higher than for package tours JTB offered" for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Another travel agency, Club Tourism Int'l Inc., said that it has sold out its ¥1.2M ($115,000) tours. Representatives of HIS Co. said they "have nearly reached their target" (KYODO, 1/14).
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that "no athlete would face discrimination" at the Sochi Olympics, "hoping to ease international concern over a Russian law banning gay 'propaganda,'" according to Denis Dyomkin of REUTERS. In a speech to new foreign ambassadors presenting their credentials at a ceremony in the Kremlin, Putin "offered his latest assurance that every athlete will be treated equally." Putin: "The Olympic Games will be held in full compliance with the Olympic charter, without any discrimination on any basis. Russia will be rooting for its own athletes of course, but we wish success to all the athletes" (REUTERS, 1/16). R-SPORT reported Putin "has previously said that Russia will 'do everything' to ensure a warm welcome for Sochi guests 'regardless … of sexual orientation.'" Russia's Interior Ministry, which controls the police, "has vowed to enforce the controversial anti-gay law at the Olympics" (R-SPORT, 1/16).
DENYING ALLEGATIONS: R-SPORT also reported Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak "has rejected claims" that preparations for the Sochi Olympics "have been blighted by massive misspending." IOC member Gian-Franco Kasper told Swiss radio last week that he believed up to a third of Sochi's alleged $50B budget "had been siphoned off, pointing the finger" at businessmen close to the Kremlin and Putin. Kozak said, "No such facts exist. There are abandoned projects, they do exist." Kozak said that "insignificant" money had been spent on feasibility studies on "moving the bobsled track and one of the Olympic villages." Kozak said that those "were the conclusions of the country's Audit Chamber after a check into Olympic spending," and insisted that the budget for the Winter Games "was closer" to $6.4B, a figure that "appears to exclude the huge infrastructure projects around Olympic venues" (R-SPORT, 1/16). RIA NOVOSTI reported Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin said that Kasper "should be taken to court over the comments." Yakunin: "Did [Kasper] take part in this theft? Then he should be judged. If he has received some sort of materials proving it is true, then put him on the stand, but otherwise you are a slanderer and you need to be judged according to the law" (RIA NOVOSTI, 1/16).
Middle East law firm Al Tamami & Company Head of Sports Law Steven Bainbridge said that "Dubai is in a strong position to make a bid for the Olympic Games in the coming years," according to Amanda Fisher of the KHALEEJ TIMES. Bainbridge said that the region "was in good standing to make an inaugural Olympics bid before long -- especially given Dubai's successful World Expo 2020 bid and Qatar hosting the Football World Cup in 2022." Bainbridge: "That’s the elephant in the room. In terms of sports, the World Cup is massive and that’s coming to the region ... but I think at some point there will be an Olympic bid in the region ... (Dubai) is the natural choice." Bainbridge added that with the "huge increase in all aspects of sports involvement," especially in the Europe, Middle East and Africa market (EMEA), where revenues have grown 4.6% "largely due to sponsorship, companies were understanding the importance of sports sponsorship" (KHALEEJ TIMES, 1/16).
Three Indian athletes "have received late funding" to travel the Sochi Winter Olympics, but two of them "are still waiting for government assistance to purchase equipment needed to compete in Sochi." While luger Shiva Keshavan "raised money for his equipment through sponsors," Alpine skier Himanshu Thakur and cross-country skier Nadeem Iqbal’s participation "remains in doubt barely three weeks before the Games open in Russia." The Sports Ministry "cleared all other costs" on Wednesday and the Winter Games Federation of India Secretary General Roshan Lal Thakur "was optimistic funds for new equipment and clothing would also be freed up soon" (REUTERS, 1/16). ... Senior Italian IOC member Mario Pescante "criticized the United States on Wednesday for including openly gay athletes in its official delegation" for the Sochi Olympics. Pescante: "It's absurd that a country like that sends four lesbians to Russia just to demonstrate that in their country gay rights have (been established). The games should not be an occasion and a stage to promote rights that sports supports daily." The Italian Olympic Committee "would not confirm or deny Pescante's comments, but his speech was reported by the Gazzetta dello Sport and the ANSA news agency" (AP, 1/16). ... Finland Sports and Culture Minister Paavo Arhinmaki "will boycott the opening ceremony" of the Sochi Olympics "due to concerns over Russia's human rights violations" (REUTERS, 1/16). ... Six workers "have fallen from a roof at the bobsleigh venue" to be used in the Sochi Olympics. One of those involved "was reportedly taken away on a stretcher with an injured leg while others sustained minor injuries" (London INDEPENDENT, 1/16).