AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Today starts the countdown to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. One Hundred days to go. The games, at more than $50 billion, are already the most expensive in history. And because of a Russian law that limits gay rights, the games could also turn out to be among the most controversial. And then there's the threat of potential terrorist attacks.
NPR's Corey Flintoff is on the line to talk with us about the potential challenges facing the host. Hey, there, Corey.
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: So what are the biggest issues facing the Olympic organizers right now?
FLINTOFF: Well, when I was in Sochi in June, Audie, the big question what Russians were going to get for their $50 billion investment, and there are really still a lot of questions and allegations about corruption here. But almost all the venues are now finished. They're ready for the competition. So a major issue now is whether Russia can protect fans and athletes at the games. You know, Sochi is part of the North Caucasus Mountains. It's not that far away from Chechnya and Dagestan. Those are Russian regions that have had ongoing Islamist insurgencies.
So the Russians will have tens of thousands of troops and police in and around the Olympic venues - all kinds of technologies, surveillance, cameras, drones, robots. The authorities have said they'll be monitoring all communications. That includes people's cell phones and emails. So it will be very difficult to pull off a large-scale terrorist attack.
CORNISH: At the same time, Corey, there have been security problems elsewhere in Russia, right? I mean, there was just a bus bombing in southern Russia last week.
FLINTOFF: Yes. Police say a woman from Dagestan blew herself up on a bus in the city of Volgograd. That killed six people. But there's no indication that that attack had any link to the Olympics in Sochi. But it still shows how relatively easy it might be to stage a spectacular attack somewhere else in Russia while these games are going on. And a really severe attack could throw the country into crisis, it'd just sap the attention away from the games. And it's not clear that the authorities are ready for that.
CORNISH: Now another thing people have been talking about, of course, is the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Russia and how that will affect the games.
FLINTOFF: Well, Russian President Putin addressed that issue again yesterday. He was taking the new head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, on an inspection tour in Sochi. And Putin said all participants would be made to feel welcome, regardless of nationality, race or sexual orientation. And the reason that assurance was necessary was that Russia has a law that limits gay rights, specifically it bans giving information to children about so-called non-traditional sexual relationships. The law is so vaguely worded that it could ban any discussion about same-sex issues or any expression of gay pride, such as a march.
CORNISH: And this controversy has also led to talk of boycotts, right, urging people to stay away from the Olympics. But is that having any resonance in Russia?
FLINTOFF: Well, it has aroused some worry here but prominent LGBT activists are saying that that would hurt athletes and fans without addressing the government's role in this law. So what they really want is for major, long-time Olympic sponsors to make some gesture in support of LGBT rights that would put the issue in the spotlight.
Now, Olympic sponsors are probably going to be pretty reluctant to make political statements during what is supposedly a nonpolitical event, especially if it's something that would embarrass the host country, so activists may well stage protests of their own that would challenge the law.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow. Corey, thank you.
FLINTOFF: My pleasure, Audie.
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