Winter Olympic politics discussed by head of WSU Internat'l Studies program

MOSCOW, ID - The Winter Olympics kicked off Friday in Sochi, but there's a lot more to the Olympics than the athletic performances.

Reporter Rachel Dubrovin explains how international relations, politics, and civil rights play into these winter games.

Here on the Palouse, winter weather has really taken a hold of the area. With temperatures dipping below freezing it's actually colder here than it is at the Olympic Games in Sochi Russia. We're at the University of Idaho to learn about some of the politics behind the Olympics.

"They're trying to make a statement about themselves and their presence on the global stage, and they're trying to communicate certain themes about who they are as a people, and ideology as a regime," said U of I Martin Institute and Program in International Studies Director Bill Smith.

Smith heads the university's International Studies program, and he's had an eye on the 2014 Winter Olympics long before the torch was lit.

"Russia's got a lot of restive minorities who live particularly in this region where Sochi is, and they see this as an opportunity to have a global audience for their grievances," said Smith. "So they've stated their intent to disrupt the games."

Smith said the location of the city could make it more vulnerable to terrorist attacks because it's fairly close to terrorist groups, however Sochi's location also has its advantages.

"There's pretty tough travel restrictions, it's hard to get to Sochi," said Smith. "There's a lot of security in place, so there won't be a lot of people sneaking into Sochi."

Smith said Russia's security will likely fend off terrorists, and many protesters.

"So Russia's been described as a very homophobic society," said Smith. "Primarily, Putin is interested in his image internally. He doesn't really care that the U.S. and the rest of the world may react to that."

And while Russia's anti-gay laws spurred controversy months before the games began, Smith said much of that attention will soon shift to the athletic events.

"The IOC says folks should be able to be who they are at the Olympics, Putin says they'll be able to be who they are," said Smith. "And the real question is what happens after the games, but what usually happens is the tension fades on the part of the global community once the event is over."

There are about 2800 athletes participating in the Winter Olympics this year and 230 of those athletes are from the United States.

230 is a record number of U.S. athletes competing at the Winter Olympics, and a total of 88 countries will be represented this year.