Athletic events are well underway at the 2014 Winter Olympics, which means that their environmental toll is halfway to forgotten.
When world athletes gathered for the 2012 Summer Games, host city London won praise for many of its sustainability efforts, such as the remarkably light and flexible open-air central stadium. Russian officials won’t be hearing the same praise: Despite promises early on that they too would create a “green” games, and tread lightly on wilderness areas near the host city of Sochi, many reports have documented the opposite:
- Wetlands that provided vital habitat for dozens of bird species, including migrating Dalmatian pelicans, were covered in 6.5 feet of crushed rock, according to a report in Agency France Presse. The birds have not taken to the “Ornithological Park” created to replace the marshlands.
- The group Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus (EWNC) has accused Olympics organizers of illegally dumping construction waste, blocking wildlife migration routes, and destroying parts of Sochi National Park, reports TIME.
- Russian authorities have responded to EWNC’s watchdogging for the past two years by harassing its members. Activist Yevgeny Vitishko recently got a two-week jail sentence for swearing in public, just enough to keep him out of the way for the duration of the games, reports The Australian.
- Vitishko has told Vice.com that Russian conservation laws were changed in 2006, 2011, and 2013 to weaken environmental protections and facilitate Olympics-related construction. He faces other charges related to his environmental activism that could result in a three-year stint in a labor camp, if he’s convicted.
- Another EWNC member, Igor Karchenko, was jailed as well this week, after he found his car smashed outside his home in Krasnodar, reports CBS News. Charged with “resisting police orders,” he has been given a five-day sentence.
In The Guardian, U.S. journalist Adam Aston calls the Sochi games a missed opportunity to improve the public’s comprehension of and involvement in sustainability goals. Given the massive global audience for sports, Aston writes, “sustainability actions in sporting arenas have supersized potential to normalize greener practices.” Which could only improve the future prospects for winter sports in particular, since, as Popular Science’s Jenny Bogo reports, recent research shows that if the most severe effects of climate change come to pass, only 6 of the last 19 cities to host the winter Olympics will remain cold enough in 2100 to do so again.