Corporate sponsors of the Sochi Winter Olympics should act now to urge Russia to halt the rising tide of discrimination, harassment, and threats against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, 40 of the world’s leading human rights and LGBT groups said today, in an unusual joint open letter.

As international attention focuses on the Sochi Winter Olympics, the big question is whether security will hold, even with Russia's draconian response, which has included bringing in more than 30,000 additional troops and police, sealing off the city and closing nearby international border crossings to try to counter Islamist insurgents’ threats to attack the games themselves. Yet whatever happens in February, Sochi will have longer term implications for Russian politics, society and its economic fortunes.

The world is just a few days away from witnessing the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics. This year, the games will be held in the Russian summer resort of Sochi. Sochi, known as a longtime retreat for the Communist elite, will be hosting history’s most expensive Olympics, with a bill of $51 billion.

The 2014 Winter Olympic games begin in a little less than a month at the time of writing this article. They will be located in Sochi, Russia, which is a tiny Russian resort town on the Black Sea. Also this year, the 2014 World Cup kicks off this June. It will take place across Brazil in a multitude of cities across the country. Both of these events are significant because they are two of the largest (if not the largest) worldwide sport events.

Athletes will be allowed to make political statements in press conferences at the Winter Olympics but will be punished for doing so while competing or during Games ceremonies, Thomas Bach confirmed on Monday. The International Olympic Committee president vowed that no athlete would be denied “freedom of speech” whilst in Sochi, despite the Olympic Charter banning demonstrations or “political, religious or racial propaganda” in any Games areas.

Markos Kounalakis explain why Dennis Rodman is no Muhammad Ali.

Last December, as the world celebrated Russia’s widely publicized release of dissident tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, two members of the punk band Pussy Riot and 29 Greenpeace activists, a court in the southern region of Krasnodar — where the Sochi Winter Olympics open next month — sentenced environmentalist Evgeny Vitishko to three years in a penal colony.

Russian authorities have intensified blatant harassment and intimidation of environmental and civic activists in the final weeks before Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Since late December, police have interfered with peaceful one-person pickets, detained and jailed protestors, and called and visited several activists and a lawyer at their homes.