Sochi: a bad template for future Games

March 3, 2014 — by Helen Wong and Megan MacInnes

The buzz from the Winter Olympics is winding down. The Games had a good showing, everyone was safe and there were no major international incidents. On the whole it was deemed successful, but seeing as the country had four years to prepare could it have been better? Was Russia ready?

The buzz from the Winter Olympics is winding down. The Games had a good showing, everyone was safe and there were no major international incidents. On the whole it was deemed successful, but seeing as the country had four years to prepare could it have been better? Was Russia ready?
If the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, were writing this article, he would undoubtedly spout something about how glorious Russia is, and how the snow is clearly the best in the world, and how Russia was an exemplary host of the most important international sports event in the world.
And the Games were enjoyable and fun to watch. The world got to appreciate Russia’s culture and heritage through the beatiful opening and closing ceramonies, but it doesn’t negate the whole host of issues that plagued the Olympics. Including but not limited to: barebone Olympic Village accommodations, unusable running water, half-built motels, uncovered manholes on the sidewalks and stray animals inside said motels.
And then, of course, the threat of a possible terrorist attack on the Olympic site itself loomed large over the Games. Russian officials feared action from Islamic extremists in the North Caucasus region, which is very close to Sochi itself. Fears which were fueled by the two suicide bombings earlier this year in nearby cities Volgograd and Dagestan.
Putin’s assurances didn’t do much to mitigate the situation. Although the government spent a good $50 billion on the Games compared to London’s $14.8 billion for the summer Games, mostly in keeping it safe. Couple that fear with the Russian government’s recent questionably ethical decisions restricting the LGBTQ rights and citizen protest, and the resulting political kerfluffle presented a pretty problem for the rest of the world. 
Many political officials allegedly did not attend the games in protest of the anti-gay laws, though only the Lithuanian president explicitly provided this as the reason for her absence. Many tried to rally support to actively protest the anti-gay laws in Russia during the Olympics. Known LGBTQ activists were barred from simply attending Olympic events; their tickets did not guarantee them a spot because an additional Olympic Passport (for security measures) was needed.
Unfortunately, American athletes did not make any collective gesture of solidarity for Russia’s gay community, nor for their own back home. There were, however, a number of Americans on the Olympic delegation who were openly gay, including former figure skater Brian Boitano and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow. 
Then, in regards to protest rights, some questioned the legitimacy of Putin’s supposed concession. An area was penned off for protesting, but it was located in a hard-to-reach village a full 7 miles from the site of the main Olympic Park. But a clause in the Olympic Charter actually prohibits protests directly at Olympic venues, so Russia may have actually had the right to do this, in spite of the criticism.
It must be acknowledged that Russia gave its all to make Sochi 2014 a good Winter Olympics, but it just wasn’t enough. There are too many infrastructural and socio-political issues plaguing Russia’s government and international relations for a $50 billion facelift to fix everything. We hope the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will be judged more positively.
 
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