Every two years, in February or August, I get caught up in what’s called “Olympic fever.” This is an exciting two weeks during which 100+ countries from six continents compete in a two-week spread of friendly athletic competition. From audience favorites like figure skating and gymnastics to more obscure events such as skeleton and dressage, dozens of sporting events each get their moment in the international spotlight. Many of these events aren’t regularly televised, so for the athletes (and their sponsors), the Olympics are, literally, a high stakes, once-every-four-years event.
This year is different. The XXII Winter Olympiad is winding down as I write this, and yet I could hardly care one way or the other. When you consider that, as recently as 18 months ago, I was determined to travel to Sochi, Russia to witness – firsthand – the opening ceremonies, the ski jump finals, the bobsled run, and other events, it seems strange for me to suddenly be so disinterested. What happened?
It’s simple, really. I’m not wild about the location of choice. It isn’t that Sochi is such a bad place within Russia; it’s that the Russian Federation – despite President Vladimir Putin’s claims to the contrary – isn’t ready to tackle an event of this magnitude, neither politically nor infrastructure-wise. Putin’s vehement anti-gay policies, his country’s struggles with Chechen terror groups, Russia’s business with such evil regimes as those of Syria and North Korea, and the (unsurprising) race to get so much new construction finished on time are four big checkmarks against him.
The harsh truth
I can only speak from personal opinion when I say this, but Putin’s stance on homosexuality, so staunch as to including imprisoning violators, is ultimately going to hold his country back from 21st century progress. Putting it simply, this isn’t Saudi Arabia.
And how ballsy are these Chechen-based terrorist cells? Chechyna and Dagestan have been fought over between Russia and the rebels since the days of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, but the violence there just gets worse, not better. Spokesmen for the terror groups have vowed destruction at the Sochi Games, and I can only imagine the security nightmare that most guests have been subjected to. My parents told me before these Games started that although they’ll be watching, they fear, deep down, that something bad will happen, and they were right to feel so. I don’t know to whom the credit should be given for delivering a problem-free Winter Olympiad, but I’m glad the XXII Winter Games have gone down without a hitch.
When it comes to sketchy political alliances, as an American I am probably not one to talk. Still, Vladimir Putin isn’t the instigator of Russia’s questionable alliances (read: arms deals), so he isn’t deserving of all blame. That said, the Russian government’s opposing stance to the UN regarding issues as disparate as Syria, Iran, and North Korea are infuriating. Aren’t there “good guys” to whom the country can sell its weapons? (That last sentence is a joke, BTW.) 🙂
The final issue of contention is simply this: Why Sochi? When the IOC announced Sochi as the host city for these Games, the collective world consciousness went “Huh?” I read once that Putin considered it part of his “legacy” to bring the Games to Sochi. Is it because he has a summer home in Sochi and wants the region to develop? Perhaps. (Josef Stalin also had a summer home in Sochi, and I’m told it’s open for tourism.) Personally, I have no issue whatsoever with Sochi being chosen. It’s a small city to be sure – and is more known as a summer resort than as a winter sports mecca – but then again, with the exception of Vancouver (2010), most Winter Olympics cities are small. Getting a hosting gig is a perfect excuse to shore up accommodations and public transit, and to build state-of-the-art athletic facilities. “Small” doesn’t necessarily mean “backwards” – not even in Russia. As such, I’ve chosen to ignore the stories of bad hotel water, stray dog “epidemics,” and the like as simple, negative propaganda. Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, they still don’t like us and we still don’t like them.
This blog entry is a week overdue; I knew what I wanted to write about but found it oddly difficult to find the words. I normally love the Olympics, and even briefly considered going to the Sochi games, until money became a factor. Subsequent political opposition left a sour taste in my mouth, and I’ve watched nary a single minute of these Games. That may also have to do with my decision to give up television. Really and truly, I don’t miss it one bit.
To be clear, though: I wish the athletes all the best. I get my news from a variety of online sources, and have been accosted with Olympic news even when I haven’t specifically sought it out. As with every other Olympic Games, there are great stories to be told. Who knew host country Russia would be eliminated from the men’s hockey quarterfinals? Who knew of Holland’s dominance in speed skating? (Apolo Anton Ohno, where are you?!) Who knew that Mexico, my adopted country, would send just one athlete to the Games? Maybe I do care about these games after all….
Whatever happened to bring about my disinterest is, I hope, a temporary malady. If all goes well, I’d love to blog about the 2016 Olympics from their host city, Rio de Janeiro!