In Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, the 100-day countdown to the XX11 Winter Olympics has got underway.
In New York and London, celebratory events will also mark the countdown to the February spectacular in which 6,000 athletes from more than 80 countries will compete under the Olympic motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger”.
Russia has invested more in its Games than any previous Olympic host, with the cost coming in around the 36 billion euro mark.
“Our conclusion is extremely clear. It is impressive, the hotels, the infrastructure including the train which we took yesterday are almost ready. It is simply tying up the loose ends now with four months remaining. Preparations for the Olympics are always like that so Sochi is in no way behind,” Jean-Claude Killy from the Olympic committee told reporters.
After many questions raised about the construction work such words must have been music to the ears of President Vladimir Putin who wants the Games to showcase the country’s modern face to the world. But to Human Rights Watch the words struck a discordant note.
Hundreds of migrant workers have, according to a report by the organisation been detained under charges of violating migration and employment regulations. Dozens it is alleged are deported each day. There are claims too many had not been paid for several months one worker reportedly staged a hunger strike in protest.
“It seems to me that the Olympic Games are trying to accomplish a different idea. It is a idea which was not set during the preparation for the Olympics or for when the Games are held. Humanism is supposed to be the founding idea,” said Semyon Simonov a migration and law coordinator
Security threats remain. Sochi is a few hundred kilometres from the volatile North Caucasus. Thirty-thousand police and army have been deployed while the military has been holding drills to ready its latest generation of helicopters.
A suicide bomb attack on a bus in Volgograd in southern Russia two weeks ago brought into sharp focus the security threat. At least six people died in what was the deadliest blast outside the North Caucasus in nearly three years.
Investigators blamed the attack on a woman from Dagestan which is the North Caucasus province at the centre of an Islamist insurgency.
President Vladimir Putin has called for a last push to accomplish what he calls the final milestone in preparing for the opening ceremony when the iconic words “let the Games begin” will echo across Sochi.