The 2014 Olympic Games have started in Sochi, Russia, and there has been more negative ink (Well, pixels) on the subject, than not. It's not like it was off to a great start--Russia has been the target of complaints over human rights (in particular, regarding incarceration and homosexuals) and there's a wide belief the flat-out bribed the Olympic Committee. A few months back, there was a different "Boycott Coke" movement, regarding Coco Cola's sponsorship of the games. Many world leaders refused to attend, and President Obama's proxy delegation included a selection of three gay athletes. Not off to a great start, but it seems things have gone downhill. Alerts of terrorist attacks, surveillance of visiting dignitaries, journalists, or just spectators, reports of inhumane disposal of stray dogs, and to top it all off, the hotels housing visitors have been sub par. As in, the power and plumbing have not been working. It has gotten to the point where very, very few foreign spectators have come to the games. It has reached a point of, shall we say, a PR disaster.
Perhaps one of the first hurdles (see what I did there?) is the Winter Olympics' status in general. It's kind of the Eli Manning of the Olympics, where, no matter how successful it is, people just feel compelled to be less compelled.Maybe it's seasonal depression, maybe it's that we see less scantily-clad, sweaty competitors. Most likely is that the event is literally a smaller affair, in that less nations tend to favor cold-weather sports, and those that do are largely milder, less confrontational places like Scandinavia and Canada. I mean, we love you Canada, don't get us wrong,and we're proud of your mad luging skills, but an arena where Canada is "competitive" just feels less electric. Of course, one notoriously cold nation that is also one who's relationship with the world is decidedly less, I guess"Canadian", is the nation hosting it, Russia.
Russia is a nation that has long held a cloud of notoriety, and talking about it has always been complicated. Even before the Soviet Union, it has been characterized as steely, mysterious, and foreboding. But as the progenitor of Communism, U.S. conservatives have categorized it as the polar opposite of freedom. In fact, I would argue the Right had ultimately shaped itself in the image of Russia, albeit in consciously attempting to be everything it's not. Even many who lean towards socialism still feel comfortable giving Joseph Stalin the silver medal in modern history's greatest monsters. However, with the fall of the Soviet Union, for a decade and a half or so, Russia kind of flew by under the radar, and not considered the worst of our concerns. It was kind of like that cartoon Dragonball Z, where the hero defeats an adversary, and they sort of hang around as an ornery, but non-threatening, almost quaint, presence. But then came Vladamir Putin.
Ever since the cold war, Russia has been trying to sell Sochi as a resort destination, like its own Hawaii or Gibraltar, and the Olympics served as great advertising. This resulted in two problems. One is that it's kind of expensive to hold winter sports in a subtropical climate. (It's kind of a weird paradox with cities that hold the Olympic Winter Games, where the country is, as a whole, cold enough to be invested in it, but the city is its warmest, so they have to artificially construct ice and snow) Also, as relatively recent conquest, and one situated close to the Middle East, AND in a place in Russia people actually, want to live in, well, it's kind of been in the midst of suspected terrorist attacks. This has ramped up the security of a country that has already had a bad reputation of a police state, and not enticed tourists who were already pretty sore a it for its human rights transgressions.
Putin was hoping this would cement his legacy. Of course, that these games will probably open up more inspection on corruption--be it the Olympics Human rights, that sort of thing. 2014 could quite possibly be a turning point. But probably not for the right reasons.