The O. Zone

Difficult if not impossible to separate politics from sports at Sochi Winter Olympics

By David O. Williams
Real AspenSeptember 16, 2013
It’s only about 720 air miles between Sochi, Russia, and Damascus, Syria – making it very difficult to separate politics from the global cooperative spirit of the Olympic Games that will be staged in Sochi in just under five months.

Russian President Vladimir Putin deserves dubious praise for “brokering” if not outright “maneuvering” outraged western powers into accepting a tenuous deal in Syria that will hopefully lead to a United Nations resolution that strips Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of his chemical weapons.

Putin would deserve far more credit if he wasn’t making so much money off Assad, pumping weapons into the country and fighting the West at every turn in a blatant bid to keep Assad in power -- even as he slaughters women and children with nerve gas reportedly provided by Russia and other Western European nations.

Earlier this summer I listed a number of reasons I wasn’t trying to find work at the Sochi Winter Olympics (I’ve attended and written about the last three), but that blog came out before the laughably macho Putin signed an anti-gay law that has garnered global outrage.
The shirtless blunder: Vladimir Putin.

One is not supposed to politicize the Olympics, but some acts are so tone-deaf to civilized sentiment that they simply must be vilified. Putin, besides trying a little too hard to demonstrate his heterosexuality, forced so many people to take a stand right before a major international event.

In America, where even Republicans are admitting they’ve been wrong on gay rights and professional athletes are finally starting to come out, it’s impossible not to condemn Putin’s actions. I don’t advocate for a boycott (because that ultimately hurts the athletes most), but I hope we see protests akin to civil rights demonstrations at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.

The 1980 U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games was a mistake, as was the reciprocal Soviet boycott of Los Angeles in 1984. Both stemmed from a Russian invasion of Afghanistan and U.S. funding of the Mujahideen who ultimately sent the Soviets packing. That war gave rise to jihadists such at Osama bin Laden. So soon after the 9/11 anniversary, it’s hard to ignore the unintended consequences of fighting proxy wars in the Middle East or Central Asia.

Just a year after the last Olympic Games on American soil (Salt Lake City in 2002), the U.S. invaded Iraq to strip Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction that he never really possessed. And many on the right insist to this day that Hussein was somehow behind 9/11 – a notion that U.S. intelligence later definitively disproved.

Is it coincidence that the U.S. hasn’t come close to landing another Olympic Games since the ill-advised invasion of Iraq – a war that cost billions in American capital, eroded U.S. credibility and didn’t really improve the overall security and stability of that country or the region?

Perhaps there should be a price to be paid for bad foreign and domestic policies. I, for one, couldn’t in all consciousness take money from the organizing committee of a nation that so openly endorses homophobia and bigotry. Nor do I think Putin’s private Games along the shores of the Black Sea should be heralded as anything but a multi-billion-dollar exercise in excess and a platform for his regressive agenda.

And yeah, I like American vodka a lot more than the Russian swill.


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