Columns / Discourse / February 19, 2014

International implications regarding the Sochi Olympics: Criticisms carry little political weight

In the past, Olympic events have certainly foreshadowed world conflict (i.e. the 1936 Winter and Summer Olympic Games in Nazi Germany), but I do not think that the issues revolving around Sochi’s 2014 Games are nearly as significant. Despite this, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, he’s called, if you are unfamiliar with him and his the previous leadership in the KGB, has been reported to have compared today’s “Western criticism of the Sochi Winter Olympics” to “Cold War ambitions to hold the Soviet Union back.” Such a sharp comparison is a bit of a shock, considering the circumstances and spirit of the remark; not many critics have focused on the actual Olympic competition, but Russia’s preparations and security for the games. “These are Vladimir Putin‘s Olympics, a one-man show, the first Olympics to be so singularly associated with a country’s leader since the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany,” SF Gate reported two weeks ago. Essentially, this is a correct statement; Putin seems to be taking some of these reviews rather personally.

It seems that Putin is attempting to use the Olympics as a way to show the world just how powerful Russia is as a country—but why? The nation has exhausted an estimated $51 billion on these games, “the highest [budget] ever and more than all 21 previous Winter Olympics combined,” the New York Times reports, and the news of their unpreparedness has come from multiple sources. Rumors about poor road conditions and hotels accommodating a number of tourists and guests despite being severely unfurnished and claims about poor road conditions flashed their way across headlines even before the elaborate opening ceremony.

Many have expressed concern regarding the safety of Russia’s newly constructed Olympic arenas and venues. Weather has also been a significant issue as of late, causing practices to be cancelled and/or relocated, but I am fairly positive that no one is blaming Vladimir Putin for that (though I’m sure if he were George Bush, people certainly would be). Despite all of these issues that have in fact been pointed out by the West, I do not think that Putin is justified when he compares these critiques to a Cold War mentality. Is Russia trying to tell us something else with this expensive bluff?

The Olympic Games exist to bring the world together in the spirit of sportsmanship and friendly competition. No other event in the history of modern civilization, minus the less-frequent, sporadic World’s Fair, has brought this number of countries and cultures together in one place. No other event showcases talented athletes from across the planet, challenging each other in both individual and team sports on this scale. The very purpose of these biennial events is to set politics and other world conflicts aside — so what is Putin trying to imply? I do not believe that Americans’ criticisms of these games at all reflect how they, as whole, feel about Russia. Commenting on the preparations or security issues should not be taken as anything more than as it is; Putin need not take these words so seriously and politically.

If these criticisms are indeed indicative of future animosity between the United States and Russia, I do not believe that it will be on the former’s actions or statements. The current banter between these two strong nations is not “reminiscent” of any Cold War attitude, but any future conflict or threats between them certainly would be. The idea of such is, in all honesty, quite silly; did Putin really expect to present us with an entirely too-expensive Olympics with some serious foundational flaws and not have anyone critique him? Even well-organized games should expect criticism from somewhere. Instead, I think the Russian president should continue rooting for his extremely successful Olympic team and take pride in their performance instead of concerning himself with the superficiality of Sochi’s critics.

Shannon Caveny

Tags:  anti-gay athletes games gay Olympics propaganda Putin Russia Sochi sports U.S.

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