With less than two weeks until the Opening Ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics, it’s odd that politics still have a stranglehold on the chatter surrounding the 22nd Winter Olympiad.
From talk of severe corruption and cost overruns to the scandal over Russia’s anti-gay legislation, the games have been clouded by issues that extend beyond sports and bring back memories of the Cold War. As we approach the beginning of what should be a celebration of human achievement and international cooperation, the word “boycott” is still fresh on many people’s tongues, and hostility about potential terrorist attacks looms.
The feel-good stories about the underdog overcoming all odds to compete are absent, and the jubilation surrounding countries that are getting their first opportunity to participate in the Olympic Games has been ignored. At this moment, the world has turned its focus to the extraneous circumstances that surround these Olympics and completely forgotten about why the International Olympic Committee even hosts this enormous event.
It’s a tragedy, and the international community, from East to West, should be ashamed with this behavior. It’s not 1980—in 10 days, the world’s greatest winter athletes will gather after sacrificing four years (and for many, even more) to train for this moment. Yet all the attention is on the businesses and politicians that have turned the Olympics into a money-making, political war.
Activists in Russia have exposed corruption, claiming that venues built in Sochi cost much more than they actually did. These games, already the most expensive ever after Russia pumped an unprecedented $51 billion into development of the infrastructure needed to support the event, have become a soap opera of turmoil and finger pointing. And it’s not just the host country playing bad guy.
The U.S. military is on standby, preparing for the worst after radical Islamic groups in the region vowed to attack during the two-week event. Security has been upped, but distrust on both the Russian and American sides have left only fragments of the workable relationship between the two countries, turning back the clock on three decades of diplomatic work. The medal count at this point seems like a consolation prize as both sides simply desire to one-up each other, with the U.S. planning to make a mockery of Russia’s ignorant laws by having gay athletes carry the flag. Sure it will make a statement, but will it change anything after the Closing Ceremonies?
I understand why it has come to this, but the U.S. needs to be the better of two evils and get back to making these Olympics no different than any other. What better way to show Russian President Vladimir Putin who’s boss than have a gay athlete win gold in the same manner that Jesse Owen did in Hitler’s Germany in 1936?
That’s what these games should be about. Not the money. Not the politics, but the sports. The athletes that will compete are there representing us, and it is our duty to support them and not put an asterisk on the Sochi Olympics. Give me some heart-warming, feel good story about a blind bobsledder that wins gold, just like Steven Holcomb did in Vancouver in 2010, or a cheesy, NBC short on how this year’s U.S. hockey team is poised for gold.
It’s time to celebrate the athlete’s efforts—not mitigate them.
Mark Schreiber is a Trinity freshman. His column runs every other Tuesday. Send Mark a message on Twitter @MarkSchreib.