The secretive battle for Sochi
February 5th, 2014
08:13 AM ET

The secretive battle for Sochi

By Brian Michael Jenkins, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Brian Michael Jenkins is senior adviser to the RAND president and the author of Al Qaeda in Its Third Decade: Irreversible Decline or Imminent Victory? The views expressed are his own.

The investment Russia has made in security to protect athletes and spectators at the Winter Olympics in Sochi is unprecedented – but so is the threat.

Doku Umarov, the leader of a shadowy group responsible for a number of recent terrorist bombings in Russia, has vowed to attack the Olympics – no holds barred. He has described the games as a “satanic dance on the bones of our ancestors.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is staking a vast amount of political capital on a successful Olympics, has vowed to surround Sochi with a protective “ring of steel.”

Behind the public terrorist threats and visible security measures, though, lies a secretive contest that pits Russian counterterrorism strategists against a determined terrorist foe. The world can only guess at what capabilities or plans the terrorists may already have in place. Equally invisible are the dark strategizing and intelligence efforts of Russian counterterrorism authorities, who already may have penetrated terrorist plots.

With just days until the lighting of the Olympic flame, Russian authorities have vowed to make the Sochi Games the most secure ever. They have established a wide perimeter around the city and the venues, manned by an overwhelming force of tens of thousands of police and military. Vehicles from outside Sochi are banned. Police are going door to door searching for terrorist suspects. For the first time in Olympic history, spectators are being vetted and credentialed. Equally important, though less visible, is the intelligence gathering and analysis, the plots uncovered and arrests made. This is where Sochi security will rise or fall.

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Topics: Russia • Security • Sports • Terrorism
World should watch Russia after Sochi
January 31st, 2014
10:15 AM ET

World should watch Russia after Sochi

By Kenneth Yalowitz and Matthew Rojansky, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Kenneth Yalowitz is former U.S. Ambassador to Belarus and Georgia and Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Matthew Rojansky is director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The views expressed are their own.

As international attention focuses on the Sochi Winter Olympics, the big question is whether security will hold, even with Russia's draconian response, which has included bringing in more than 30,000 additional troops and police, sealing off the city and closing nearby international border crossings to try to counter Islamist insurgents’ threats to attack the games themselves. Yet whatever happens in February, Sochi will have longer term implications for Russian politics, society and its economic fortunes.

President Vladimir Putin has been unabashed in connecting his own personal prestige with the efforts to make Russia's first post-Soviet Olympics a success. And if the games proceed without incident, and the newly built infrastructure works, Putin will have another major accomplishment to add to his list of recent wins in Syria and Ukraine. A successful Olympics might also bolster support among ordinary Russians and non-Western observers for the Kremlin's "managed democracy."

But if major flaws and failures steal the show in Sochi, Putin will find it difficult to sidestep responsibility, and he may be faced with deepening cracks in Russia's political and economic system.

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Topics: Russia • Sports
Sochi has (almost) nothing to fear but fear itself
January 22nd, 2014
09:22 AM ET

Sochi has (almost) nothing to fear but fear itself

By Mark Galeotti, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mark Galeotti is professor of global affairs at New York University’s SCPS Center for Global Affairs. You can follow him @MarkGaleotti or on his blog, ‘In Moscow’s Shadows.’ The views expressed are his own.

News potential female terrorists – so-called “black widows” – may be loose inside or around the Sochi Winter Olympics security zone has inevitably stirred up fresh concerns about the Games. Athletes and prospective visitors are wondering if they will be safe. The United States is preparing plans in case its citizens need to be evacuated. The more the conversation about Sochi is about the threat, though, the more the terrorists have won – and a cheap victory at that.

The Games have become a symbolic test for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and what matters to Putin gets top priority. The security effort is unprecedented. There will be up to 40,000 police and security officers there, including Interior Ministry troops, and an anti-terrorist commando force: that’s the equivalent of one for every nine inhabitants of the town of Sochi, and more than were on duty at peak times during the much larger London Olympics in 2012. There will also be regular soldiers on duty, including divers will also be divers watching the Black Sea coast and surface-to-air missile batteries that could claw a 747 out of the skies. And those skies will also be patrolled by drones, while elite Spetsnaz commandos scour the surrounding mountains, just in case terrorists try to get into the zone cross-country.

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Topics: Russia • Sports • Terrorism
How real sports diplomacy works
December 17th, 2013
03:58 PM ET

How real sports diplomacy works

By Patrick Cha, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Patrick Ellis Cha is the founder of NetBenefitUSA, a Maryland-based non-governmental organization dedicated to socially conscious sports projects. You can follow them @NetBenefitUSA. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Dennis Rodman is bound to grab headlines with his third trip to North Korea, scheduled for later this week. But his message to President Barack Obama that he just needs to pick up the phone and talk to the erratic Kim Jong Un (who only last week had his uncle executed on the grounds that he was a traitor and “despicable human scum”), suggests that the former NBA star and self-proclaimed ambassador might be overstating his influence. Sports diplomacy is real and effective – but probably not in the form we are about to see.

Last year, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Burma, a country that has recently undergone a degree of democratic change that seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. During the trip, Obama pledged U.S. economic assistance to the country, and authorized the dispatch of the first U.S. ambassador to Burma, also known as Myanmar, in decades.

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Topics: North Korea • Sports
Russia in 2014: Sochi key to Putin legacy
December 17th, 2013
01:29 PM ET

Russia in 2014: Sochi key to Putin legacy

By Andrew C. Kuchins, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Andrew C. Kuchins is a senior fellow and director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. The views expressed are his own. This is the second in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

The eyes of the world will be trained on Russia when the Sochi Winter Olympics open on February 7. The Olympic Games have already attracted tremendous controversy over concerns about discriminating Russian LGBT legislation and massive corruption in preparing the games (which at an estimated cost of more than $50 billion are already the most expensive in history). In addition, there are political and security concerns about the site itself, which borders Georgian sovereign territory of Abkhazia, which Russia has recognized as independent since its five-day war with Georgia in 2008, and also borders the volatile North Caucasian republics of Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin views the Games as reflecting Russia’s return as a great power since he first took office on December 31, 1999. But although he could possibly remain Russian leader for another ten years, until 2024, it is hard not to look at these Olympics in terms of his legacy.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • Human Rights • Russia • Sports
Is Japan really back?
September 23rd, 2013
09:57 AM ET

Is Japan really back?

By Victor Cha, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Victor Cha is a professor at Georgetown University, senior adviser for Asia at CSIS in Washington D.C., and author of Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia. The views expressed are his own.

In August 1964, a nineteen-year-old track athlete ascended the long flight of stairs to light the stadium flame that would signal the start of the Olympic Games. The young man, Yoshinori Sakai, was born the day the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. There could not have been a more powerful way to demonstrate how the Tokyo Olympics marked the death of wartime Japan, and the re-birth and re-emergence of the country on the international stage as an advanced industrial democracy.

Japan’s hosting of the 2020 Summer Olympics will be no less significant. In 1964, Tokyo stood as the first Asian site in the Olympic era. While many Olympics have since come to Asia (Sapporo, Japan in 1972, Nagano, Japan in 1998, Seoul in 1988, Beijing in 2008, Pyeongchang, Korea in 2018) it will have become the first Asian city to host the mega-event for a second time.

While offering the Olympics to a young, vibrant Muslim country for the first time (Turkey) would have been cool, the International Olympic Selection Committee’s choice of Tokyo seemed well-advised.   Japan’s technical bid was the strongest and the most realistically priced (at $6 billion to $8 billion, versus Turkey at an extravagant $19 billion and Madrid at a paltry $2 billion). Experience was on Japan’s side, having hosted three previous Winter and Summer Olympics.  Tokyo also offered a stable political environment, compared with Istanbul, for example, which borders the conflict in Syria. And, unlike the other two, Japanese world class athletes had not suffered from recent doping scandals.

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Topics: Japan • Sports
July 24th, 2013
04:09 PM ET

Gladwell: College football an inhumane spectacle

Fareed speaks with Malcolm Gladwell, longtime ‘New Yorker’ staff writer and best-selling author of ‘The Tipping Point’ and ‘Outliers’ about American college football. In the first part, Gladwell makes the argument that college football is little different from dog fighting. Watch the video for the full exchange. For more GPS interviews, visit iTunes to download the full show.
 

You compare football to dog fighting. Why?

Yes, I did a piece for The New Yorker a couple of years ago where I said it. This was at the time when, remember, Michael Vick, was convicted of dog fighting. And to me, that was such a kind of, and the whole world got up in arms about this. How could he use dogs in a violent manner, in a way that compromised their health and integrity?

And I was just struck at the time by the unbelievable hypocrisy of people in football, for goodness sake, getting up in arms about someone who chose to fight dogs, to pit one dog against each other.

In what way is dog fighting any different from football on a certain level, right? I mean you take a young, vulnerable dog who was made vulnerable because of his allegiance to the owner and you ask him to engage in serious sustained physical combat with another dog under the control of another owner, right?

Well, what's football? We take young boys, essentially, and we have them repeatedly, over the course of the season, smash each other in the head, with known neurological consequences.

And why do they do that? Out of an allegiance to their owners and their coaches and a feeling they're participating in some grand American spectacle.

They're the same thing. And the idea that as a culture we would be absolutely quick and sure about coming to the moral boiling point over the notion that you would do this to dogs and yet completely blind to the notion you would do this to young men is, to my mind, astonishing.

I mean there's a certain point where I just said, you know, we have to say enough is enough.

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Topics: GPS Show • Sports • Uncategorized
July 20th, 2013
01:24 AM ET

Gladwell: Why college football is like dog fighting

Fareed speaks with Malcolm Gladwell, longtime ‘New Yorker’ staff writer and best-selling author of ‘The Tipping Point’ and ‘Outliers’ about American college football – and whether it’s time to stop it altogether. Watch the full interview this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

You compare football to dog fighting. Why?

Yes, I did a piece for The New Yorker a couple of years ago where I said it. This was at the time when, remember, Michael Vick, was convicted of dog fighting. And to me, that was such a kind of, and the whole world got up in arms about this. How could he use dogs in a violent manner, in a way that compromised their health and integrity?

And I was just struck at the time by the unbelievable hypocrisy of people in football, for goodness sake, getting up in arms about someone who chose to fight dogs, to pit one dog against each other.

In what way is dog fighting any different from football on a certain level, right? I mean you take a young, vulnerable dog who was made vulnerable because of his allegiance to the owner and you ask him to engage in serious sustained physical combat with another dog under the control of another owner, right?

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Russia's anti-Olympic spirit
February 7th, 2013
10:39 AM ET

Russia's anti-Olympic spirit

By Rachel Denber, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Rachel Denber is deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.  You can follow her @Rachel_Denber. The views expressed are her own.

The countdown to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi is officially under way. Exactly one year from today a colossal project few thought possible in 2007 – building a state-of-the-art winter sports venue in the Caucasus mountains and the on the subtropical Black Sea coast – will become reality. If past Olympic Games are any guide, just about every week in the coming year will bring a new reminder of what lies ahead. I’m a winter sports nut, an Olympics true believer, and besotted Russophile who’s been working on Russia for more than 20 years, so for me personally it’s a very exciting countdown.

But for these two decades my work on Russia has been to monitor human rights developments – and the past year has been singularly horrid in terms of human rights here, with each month bringing a new, restrictive law or political smear campaign against government critics, or absurd trial or shocking arrest, or depraved threat against colleagues in the human rights movement. It’s been a countdown not to something new and exciting, but to the grim Soviet past.

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China's great Olympic debate
August 10th, 2012
11:43 AM ET

China's great Olympic debate

By Elizabeth Economy, CFR

Editor's note: Elizabeth Economy is C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Asia Unbound originally appeared here. The views expressed are those of the author.

The Chinese currently stand second in the Olympic medals table – in both gold and overall – but you would never know it from what’s going on in their media. Of course, there’s celebration of the country’s athletes. Yet the flawless performances of the Chinese divers and spectacular achievements of the Chinese male gymnasts are in danger of being drowned out by a torrent of commentary focused on what the games mean for China as a society and for its place in the world. Some of the commentary is lamenting, some angry, and still other searching.

Some Chinese are concerned that the cost of an Olympic gold is too great, both literally and figuratively. People have reportedly calculated the financial cost of swimmer Sun Yang’s two years of gold medal-worthy training at approximately $1.57 million. Not a small sum in a country where per capita income still tops out at roughly $7,500. At the same time, the stories of Chinese athletes living away from their families for years – missing deaths, illnesses, and family celebrations – in state-run training centers also raise questions for some Chinese as to whether gold medal mania is a worthy substitute for the to and fro of daily life. Then, inevitably, there are those who are worried about the enormous pressure placed on state-supported Chinese athletes, such as the weight lifter Wu Jingbiao, the gold medal favorite in his event, who broke down in tears and apologized to his country after winning a silver medal.

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Predicting the 2040 Olympics medal table
August 10th, 2012
10:07 AM ET

Predicting the 2040 Olympics medal table

By Fareed Zakaria

I’ve been in London this week, and I couldn’t help but catch the Olympics bug. The Games are the ultimate meritocracy – or so it seems. But why do some countries win lots of medals? Do they have more talented people than others? We’ve spent some time looking at the data.

A few trends are clear.

Countries with large populations tend to do well. Logic suggests that the more people you have, the more likely you are to have a few excellent athletes. In the 2008 Beijing Games, China was the runaway leader with 51 gold medals. The United States came second, but it won the most medals overall with 110. The two countries are of course among the three most populous in the world.

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Topics: Brazil • China • Demographics • Japan • Sports • United States • What in the World?
How to predict Olympic medal totals
July 27th, 2012
10:08 AM ET

How to predict Olympic medal totals

By Julia Bredtmann, Carsten J. Crede and Sebastian Otten

Editor’s note: Julia Bredtmann, Carsten Crede and Sebastian Otten are researchers in economics at the Ruhr University Bochum, Germany. The views expressed are solely those of the authors.

The world’s biggest sporting event, this year involving athletes from more than 200 nations, officially opens in London today. But while much of the focus will be on the feats of individuals over the next 17 days, there’s always another competition going on too – the one between countries for the most Olympic medals.

In the lead up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China dedicated more than $4.5 billion to supporting sports in an effort to supplant the United States as the world’s sporting superpower. Similarly, as the Economist noted back in 2008, the British government has ramped up spending by investing in and supporting its elite athletes. But is Olympic glory all about the money?

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Topics: China • Economy • Health • Sports • United States
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