Sochi 2014: security vs. the forbidden fruit

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Russian president Vladimir Putin has said it many times: security is paramount during these Olympic Winter Games. Checks will be so stringent that no one – absolutely no one – would get even so much as the slightest chance of causing any sort of trouble.

It is unsurprising therefore that food and drink are strictly prohibited from any Olympic venue. Wait a minute…what? Yes, as ridiculous as it may sound, no journalist who enters the Olympic grounds is allowed to take in any food or vessels containing more than 100ml.

Everyone’s first thought? It’s so they can make more money off everyone who will just spend money on food inside the venue. Not a bad bet, seeing as most food – at least in the MPC, is hugely overpriced compared to the rest of Sochi. But the real problem in my view is that there is no outlet selling anything healthy, like an apple or an orange, or – Alas! – a smoothie.

When on venue we are provided a free ‘workforce’ lunch every day, which mostly contains some sort of salad, but one salad a day ain’t gonna keep the doctor away, is it? So I, along with fellow ONS reporters, have been coming up with ways to circumvent the system.

To get fruit, or any kind of food, through security, you have to be part of one of the following scenarios:

Scenario 1: You stuff your bag with so much food and liquid that security ask you to reveal the content of your bag. You tell them about the apple you have in there, pull it out and begrudgingly throw it away, while making a big fuss about these ‘silly rules’. The more you resist their rules, the more they enjoy making you adhere to them. In the end, the security guys think they have won a major victory, but you walk away with yet another three apples in the bottom of your bag, some crackers in your pockets and maybe a cereal bar hidden in your bra.

Scenario 2: You stuff your bag with food and liquids. Security detect all of it on the scanner and ask you to open your bag. You look confused and open your bag – constantly shaking your head in bewilderment. You selectively pull out items you say might look like food on the scanner from your bag and maintain a highly baffled expression on your face. ‘It could be this empty bottle of water?,’ you say still looking highly disorientated. Eventually the security guards get fed up with your stupidity and let you through with all your prohibited consumables.

Scenario 3: You stuff your bag with food and liquids. Hell, you might even have put a tupperware box in there with some salad! You put your bag on the conveyor belt. It gets scanned. You start to tremble and fret. ‘The waste! The waste of all this deliciously healthy food they’re going to make me throw in the bin in a few seconds!,’ you think. The security guards pass your jacket and bag to you and wish you a nice day.

The latter scenario is no doubt the most efficient and stress-free – if you leave out the ten seconds of terror that is. But, as you can tell, nothing is ever the sure. And it is virtually impossible to know beforehand how to play your cards right.

While at airports you go through the metal detector gate and if it beeps you get a full body search, here, you get a full body search either way. Unless, that is, you don’t.

I have also often been asked to turn on my electrical devices or, as it mostly the case, hit a random button so the thing’s light comes on. I guess they do this to determine that what might look like an iPhone is not, in fact, a bomb. Or something along those lines. But then of course, there are all those other times when no one asks you to switch on anything.

As with most things in Russia, it is always safest to expect a reliable system of complete and uncompromising randomness and for reason never to win. One day, I asked the security guys what was so dangerous about my orange and they said ‘nothing, it’s just not allowed’.

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