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Volume 7 No. 149
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'Real Sports' Producer Discusses Last Week's 'The Purge' Segment

Last week's episode of HBO's "Real Sports" examined the fate of journalists who have been critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The piece featured an interview with doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov and told the story of outspoken Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered in '15, among others who have spoken out regarding corruption in Russia's hosting of the 2014 Olympics and the ongoing World Cup. "Real Sports" Senior Segment Producer Josh Fine spoke to SBD Global via email about several issues related to the piece.

Q: It seems like there’s far less coverage of Putin and corruption around the World Cup than there was around the Sochi Olympics. Do you think this is because people feel like the topic has already been covered or because his critics, as the piece details, have been repressed?
Josh Fine: There are probably three reasons. 

The first is that the 2014 Sochi Olympics cost Russia roughly three times more than the World Cup, so the opportunity for corruption was higher. Additionally, the Sochi Games weren’t just the most expensive in history, but more expensive than every other Winter Olympics combined. While the World Cup appears to be the most expensive in history, it’s not a massive multiple of other World Cups.

The second reason is probably because Russia’s former Deputy Prime Minister, Boris Nemtsov -- the author of the definitive report on the Sochi Games and a reputable source for journalists worldwide -- is no longer alive. Nemtsov knew how to garner attention and had presented the report at the National Press Club in Washington. He was a frequent guest of Arizona Senator John McCain. When Nemtsov spoke, people tended to listen. There are no members of the opposition left in Russia who have as much credibility. 

The third reason is probably the ongoing tightening of public space in Russia. Every year it becomes more difficult to report the news and journalists are under extraordinary pressure to avoid investigating Putin. Many of the country’s best reporters have left Russia (some continue to try to report on the country from abroad but that comes with its own set of challenges) and many publications have shut down. During the lead-up to the Olympics (just a few years ago) it was easier for a reporter to investigate high-level corruption. 

Producer Josh Fine (left) appears alongside host Bryant Gumbel.
Photo: HBO "REAL SPORTS"

Q: Are many Russian journalists still covering corruption by Putin and the government or have the stories of what happened to the reporters in this piece made others afraid to criticize Putin?
Josh Fine: There are still some brave Russian reporters who cover these matters but the numbers dwindle every year. Relatedly: the government appears to have prophylactically locked up some reporters ahead of the World Cup so as to ensure they won’t decide to do this kind of reporting during the event.

Q: How was the process of contacting Grigory Rodchenkov? Was it difficult to convince him to sit down for an interview for this piece?
Josh Fine: We’ve been asked not to say too much about this. 

Q: Did "Real Sports" contact Putin or the Russian government for their reactions to this piece?
Josh Fine: We reached out to the Russian government and outlined for them the various allegations in the piece. They did not offer any comment.

Q: The IOC and FIFA have both claimed that in the years ahead, they are going to be more transparent about how they choose World Cup and Olympic hosts. Do you believe this will be the case?
Josh Fine: I don’t know. I know both organizations are under pressure to more frequently award their events to democratic countries.