This year’s Winter Olympic Games are scheduled to run February 7-23, 2014. Athletes and spectators from around the world have descended on the seaport town and adjacent mountains of Sochi, Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin is attending the games along with global leaders who packed the Open Ceremonies to cheer on national teams comprised of world-class athletes who have trained long and hard to compete for the Gold.
Drama Unfolds Behind the Scenes at this Year’s Olympic Games
Instead of a stunning display of athletic achievement and derring-do, this year’s Winter Olympics is overshadowed by geopolitics, human rights charges, and more. Indeed, the real story has yet to be told of these 2014 Winter Olympic Games, an event already tarnished by questions of Sochi’s readiness for the games, terrorism, freedom of assembly, speech, and the press, and more. As athletes take to the ice and slopes, who knows what’s happening in the lives of everyday Russians as authorities work overtime to shield the Western press from actions taken to ensure a perfectly orchestrated international sporting event? Who knows whose lives, families and local businesses have been touched by strong arm tactics amid the swelling crowds at this year’s Winter Olympics?
Already, Human Rights Watch has reported on the arrest of human rights activist Anastasia Smirnova as she carried a banner trumpeting Article 6 of the Olympic Charter which asserts, “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender, or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.” This arrest took place on the same day as Opening Ceremonies for the Winter Games. Amnesty International has also decried the arrest of environmental activist Yevgeniy Vitishko who was summarily charged and found guilty of “petty hooliganism” for allegedly “swearing at a bus stop.” I’m sure there are many more incidents that have yet to be reported.
Undermining the Spirit of the Olympic Games
No doubt, the spirit of the games has been adversely impacted by the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) selection of Sochi, Russia for this year’s Winter Games. Sochi itself is located not too far from a terrorist stronghold and hotspot. Russian laws restrict rights of LGBT and other citizens. Eavesdropping is commonplace by Russian authorities. While Russia boasts a beautiful landscape, culture and citizenry, its government is autocratic and corruption is reportedly rampant. Combined with civil unrest in the Caucasus and former Soviet Republics, it may not have been the best time for Russia to host these Winter Olympic Games.
Broadcast, print and social media seem particularly challenged in their efforts to present balanced coverage of the athletes and competitions amid more serious questions of human rights, safety and security of the Games, computer hacking and eavesdropping, and so much more. Caught in the middle, members of the Fourth Estate and blogosphere have found themselves in a Catch 22 of Olympic-sized proportions. In the meantime, you can’t help but feel sorry for the athletes and teams who have worked so diligently over many years time to make it to the Olympics.
Forecast for 2018 Winter Olympic Games: Stormy Skies
The IOC’s selection of Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games will do little to quell controversy. While I appreciate that the Olympics shines a bright light of freedom for so many cultures and countries around the world, I’m just not sure holding this event on the Korean Peninsula amid ongoing tensions with the North is particularly prudent. (Hopefully, I’m wrong here.)
In the meantime, I will watch the 2014 Winter Games with great interest and fanfare, as will millions of other spectators around the world. But, I’m also thinking it’s time for the IOC to be more sensitive to the political and social realities of nations under consideration to host these Olympic events. It’s also high time the global community of nations worked a little harder for peace, understanding and justice for all.
(Note to IOC: Looking for non-controversial locales for these games? Check out Jack Frost and Camelback (Poconos) or the Laurel Highlands (Western Pennsylvania). Or, Big Sky and Jackson Hole (Wyoming) or Girdwood (Alaska) or Zermatt (Switzerland). I’m sure there are plenty of other quiet communities, stunning winter landscapes and potential Olympic venues out there. Just sayin’!)
Sochi Olympics countdown sees Russia jailing second prisoner of conscience this week
Amnesty International Online (February 5, 2014)
Dispatches: As Sochi Opens, So Does Russia’s Sad Reality
By Minky Worden in Human Rights Watch (February 7, 2014)
Power, Politics, and the Olympic Games: A History of the Power Brokers, Events, and Controversies that Shaped the Games
Alfred Erich Senn. Champaign, Illinois (Human Kinetics, 1999)
Official Website of Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics