The 2014 Winter Olympics began on 7 February, in case you’ve been living under a glacier. Though not as quaint as our own little display or as bombastic as the Chinese’s, Russia’s Sochi is shaping up to be a fine show.
That’s not to say they went about it the right way.
The Sochi Olympics are rife with controversy. Before we begin, let’s refresh our memories. First off, they are ridiculously, tremendously expensive. Clocking in at over $50 billion USD. For reference Vancouver was $8 billion, and even the notoriously expensive games in Beijing were estimated near $45 billion. How much of that is underestimation by contractors (as Russian President Putin claims), corruption (as many detractors of the Russian government claim), or old-school Soviet bravado, is up for debate.
Next, the security concerns. Many extremist groups in the region have issued bomb threats to both the Russian organizers and individual Olympic teams. Among them is Vilayat Dagestan, the group that has claimed responsibility for the recent Volgograd bombings, which killed dozens. In response, Putin has promised a “ring of steel” to protect the games. Looks like the iron curtain’s coming back into vogue.
Lastly, Russia recently passed anti-gay legislation. Consisting of laws preventing the spread of “gay propaganda”, the bill has been thrust into the limelight by the Olympics. This has resulted in protest around the world; the pride flag was raised at Toronto City Hall, and Google’s Olympic doodle featured an excerpt from the Olympic Charter declaring the right of athletes to practice without discrimination.
These issues are in the spotlight right now. In a year or two, they may not be. Too often, the issues surrounding the Olympics are blotted out by the brilliance of the Games themselves. Thousands of people were evicted from their homes, which were demolished, to provide space for the Beijing Olympics. Is that what we remember from 2008? Or is it the brilliant Opening Ceremony?
Such is the power of the Games. Their status as a symbol of international cooperation gives them a lot of leeway when less than savoury details emerge. These details are almost always forgotten. Leaving Sochi, we must be careful that the same thing doesn’t happen again. Important problems are present in the Motherland, ranging from social issues to geopolitics. Neglecting them in favour of some sparkly lights will not do.