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An Olympics in Russia: Who Said This Was a Good Idea?

BY: Alex Gordon | Category: Sports | Submitted: 2014-02-19 19:12:11
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Article Summary: "Comparing Moscow 1980 and Sochi 2014. Putin's ambition to promote the Sochi Games as a way of highlighting Russia's global role is not dissimilar to the Games of 1980. .."


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When the IOC awarded the Winter Olympic Games to Sochi in 2007, it would have taken a strong optimist to argue, that a nation so entrenched in the dominion of historical controversy, could host a modern Games without a scent of altercation. Besides, conflict is an area that Russia invariably excels in. I'm sure if gold medals were awarded in that category throughout history, Russia would be one of the favourites to claim them multiple times. It tells a tale that of the two Olympics that Russia has hosted, neither were void of investigative BBC documentaries. The 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow were a Games set against the tumultuous backdrop of Cold War politics, riddled with drug problems and proceeded by a boycott, led by the USA and sixty-five other countries. Perhaps the most staggering fact here though, is that Great Britain still only managed a grand haul of twenty-one medals behind the international powerhouses of Cuba and Romania. This was an era dominated by a quest for international superiority and one, which had significant repercussions on how we view the Olympics today.

Politicians and campaigners alike have used Sochi as a way to illuminate the problems that ordinary people face in Putin's contemporary Russia. There have been the copious arguments concerning basic human liberty, the rights of homosexuals and the butchering of wild animals that, to the Russian leaders it seems, had an apparent potential to sabotage the Games. Indubitably, an Olympics will cause tension. However, what can be taken from Sochi is that most of this 'tension' is medieval and backward in its aspects, so to speak. These problems, like the ones mentioned above, seem more suited to the confinements of history textbooks than the forward-progressing global society in which we inhabit today. Furthermore, the use of the word 'progress' in conjunction with Sochi is overall hard to agree with. The intention to construct these Games at a moderate price was not forthcoming. In January 2013, Putin announced that the Games would cost four times the expected amount. If economic prowess is a measurement for the lineation of progress throughout history, then the Sochi Games are far from conforming to this concept. The Moscow Olympics, in itself, can clearly be argued to have contributed to the downfall of the Soviet economy in the years succeeding the Games.

Putin's ambition to promote the Sochi Games as a way of highlighting Russia's global role is not dissimilar to the Games of 1980. Naturally, these Olympics were expressed as a way of showcasing the Soviet Union's dominance over the capitalist sphere. Russia attempted to transform Moscow into a 'modern face fit for the world to see' in anticipation of its numerous foreign visitors. However, the boycott, as pioneered by the United States, had disastrous consequences on this ideal. In a period where Russia desperately required economic aid to maintain its war effort in Afghanistan, the decreasing number of foreigners who travelled to Moscow severally impacted Russian trade and commerce. Thus, perhaps America's greatest victory during this time period is that the boycott allowed a continuation of Soviet global isolation. America, by boycotting these Games, created a sentiment that surrounded the Olympic movement of 1980. The Cold War, to many, had become prolonged and consequently, sporting diehards were barred from witnessing the world's greatest athletes compete. Propaganda made sure that Russia was positioned as the chief architects of this. Any attempt to champion Russian superiority on the world stage were made void because of the lack of capitalist nations competing. The Olympics had thus become politicised.

Much like runners of African descent being intrinsically linked to the long distance events in athletics, terror threats and the Olympics appear to go hand in hand. Moscow, as predetermined by said boycott, was overwhelmed by security. These Games were of course in the immediate aftermath of the 1976 Olympics in Munich where eleven members of the Israeli Olympic congregation were tragically killed. Sochi, as occurring in the backdrop of terrorist fears, came under threat, namely by ethnic minorities, with suicide bombers targeting public places in Russia prior to the Games. The importance of the Olympics away from the sporting theatre of performance is that they are clearly used to shed light on the world we live in, and thus allows us to measure ourselves in terms of progress. History and sport it appears, is relatively new in an academic capacity and it is only recently becoming an area of sustained popularity. Ultimately, the narrative and sustained legacy of the Moscow Games is that although it escaped violence, the representation of the Soviet form of government did not improve dramatically and ultimately failed in its mission. Sochi, as an Olympic Games, will be judged using the same criteria as Moscow. We are about to see just how far Russia has come since the fall of the Communist Bloc.

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