In less than a month, University of California President Janet Napolitano will be leading the United States Olympic delegation to Sochi, Russia, under demanding conditions. Napolitano, former Secretary of Homeland Security will guide the delegation through a delicate state in Russia due to the recent terrorist attacks and anti-gay law that will be enforced at all times throughout the Games.
Russia is a country that has been familiar with terrorist organizations and their attacks for many years. One in particular, the Caucasus Emirate, a group associated with Al-Qaeda, has committed various acts of violence, leaving several dead. The Caucasus Emirate leader, Doku Umarov, has threatened to attack the Olympic Games next month and the civilians who will be attending.
Russian President Vladimir Putin made security stricter after the bombing occurred, but it is still unsure as to whether civilians will be safe outside of the venue when they use various transportation networks. Recently, there were three terrorist attacks in Volgograd, Russia, 600 miles from the region where the Games will be held next month. One of the incidents occurred at a rail station and the other on a trolley bus. In total, 34 people died. This caused the reexamination of security protocols the athletes and citizens will face during the Winter Games.
“Once the athletes start going down the runs and doing the skating and the first women’s team member to be ski jumping, the attention will turn,” Napolitano said in an interview on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’ “But in the meantime, yes, everybody will be conscious of security and making sure that athletes and spectators are safe.”
The various acts of terrorism prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a travel advisory on Friday, cautioning Americans who plan to attend the Games next month. The advisory is based solely on “short-term conditions” which the government considers may “pose significant risks to the security U.S. citizens.” If the situation begins to look worse, the State Department will issue “travel warnings” which advise Americans to reevaluate their plans. Although President Barack Obama has placed two openly gay athletes in the U.S. delegation, the advisory warns Americans about publicly advocating gay rights.
In 2013, Putin passed a law that denounces people who openly identify as queer and also bans giving children any information about homosexuality. The Russian bill that bans the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” was originally passed to conserve and promote traditional Russian values and to prevent Western liberalism from spreading. The bill is another risk many LGBT Americans have to consider while traveling abroad.
If an organization wants to have a political protest, they must obtain special permits from the authorities. Once the permit is obtained, the demonstrations cannot occur near the Olympic sites; they must take place in Khost, a village that is roughly seven miles from Sochi. Foreigners who are caught breaking the law can face fines of up to $3,100 and 14 days in jail.
“What we would like to do is demonstrate that the United States is a very free and open and tolerant society,” Napolitano said. “I’m going to represent my country, to support our team. And you know what, partially to represent the University of California, which is the largest public research university in the world.”