“The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” – International Olympics Committee, #2 on the list of Fundamental Principles of Olympism.
Two months ago, Miomir Stolica went to Russia with a group of migrants from Bosnia and Serbia to find construction work for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. While groups of migrants found work in Russia, they were deceived – they worked on a construction site, but they never got paid. When agents of Russia’s Federal Migration Service came in and attempted to detain the workers, Stolica, a Bosnian, fled with other migrants for their home countries.
In the summer of 2007, subtropical Sochi was chosen by the International Olympic Committee to host the 2014 Winter Games. Many of the major Olympic venues that you will see during the games – the Central Olympic Stadium, the Main Olympic Village and the Main Media Center – have been rapidly constructed with the help of over 16,000 migrant workers.
This winter, 88 nations are competing in 98 athletic events hosted in two major locations. Various new roads, railways, ports and terminals have been built to accommodate traveling spectators and athletes, and these visitors will gather at a total of 15 sport venues once the games begin. At the end of the day, crowds will return to a host of newly-built hotels to accommodate an estimated 10.3 thousand people. According to The Guardian, Russia has spent an nearly $51 billion dollars, making this year the costliest Olympics to date.
Ironically, while Russia has spent above and beyond their original budget, they have stripped many of the migrant workers of their wages, denying them a payment for up to months at a time. “Some migrant workers worked 12-hour shifts with one day off per month, had their passports confiscated, were denied employment contracts, and faced unsanitary and overcrowded employer-provided accommodations, with up to 200 migrant workers living in a one single-family home,” writes Human Rights Watch, who has created a 67-page report, based on interviews with 66 migrant workers, to document the exploitation of migrant workers located on key Olympic sites. The results of HRW’s investigations are stunning.
Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading independent organizations that are dedicated to protecting and defending human rights, stated in their report that the Russian government is obligated to protect workers, including migrant workers, from abuse under national and international laws. The protections under Russian law is supposed to include regular payment of wages, written employment contracts for both the employer and the worker, a prohibition on withholding of identity documents and limits on work hours with at least one day off per week.
Through a tangled web of recruiters and supervisors, Russia has dropped the ball on following laws that require the treatment and accommodation of basic human rights. Employers have violated Russian laws and stripped migrant workers of their basic possessions as well as a basic wage. According to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFERL), Sasa Simic, the president of Serbia’s Independence construction workers union, has stated that there may be as many as 40,000 Serbs who have worked in Russia, but the exact number working in Sochi is unknown. Simic stated that there is not much government control over the “shady” employment companies that recruit workers to send to Russia, and therefore, the migrant workers’ passports are often taken away by these very employers. Simic expressed that no one has the right to take away the migrants’ passports, and he equated it to human trafficking and forced labor.
While the problem seems to be stemming from Russia’s lack of consideration and control, they are not doing much to protect migrants from recruiters who are breaking Russian laws. On Jan. 23, Serbian officials arrested Dusan Kukic, the owner of an unlicensed recruiting firm in Cacak, Serbia. Kukic was allegedly responsible for sending some Serbian workers to Sochi. This was only one arrest out of many recruiters, and the desire for more migrant workers will not cease as Russia prepares for the 2018 Soccer World Cup.
Miomir Stolica explained that he went to Sochi to find work because he is married, he has a small child, and he cannot find a job in Bosnia. He is not a member of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), a political party of President Milorad Dodik, and a ticket to a decent job. Stolica faced a long journey home from a failed attempt to support his family – imprisoned with a group of other migrants trying to escape from Russia, help finally came through the Serbian embassy.
Through great injustice, the Sochi Olympic grounds have been built. As you watch this year’s winter games, whether you’re in front of a television or sitting in a stadium, remember the gap and tension between the country who’s hosting the games and the people who have made the games happen; people who have been stripped of harmonious development, a peaceful society and most importantly, human dignity.
Cover photo courtesy of Outside