How will we Remember Sochi 2014?
Jenny Jones third place finish ensured Team GB grabbed their first ever medal on the snowy Sochi Mountains, however has the story of the 2014 Games already been stained in the history books?
Politics and sport have found themselves entwined throughout modern history. Sport creates a unifying bond among the masses, bringing people together from all regions of a nation to consolidate and celebrate the country through the efforts of its elite sporting stars. Sport also encourages international competition, with an athlete’s success becoming a reflection on their own nation’s talent, skill and supremacy. The influence of sport has only grown as the World becomes more connected, especially online, with national sporting success resulting in adulation, whilst failure making you susceptible to the mocking insults of your rivals. O a sad day to be an English Rugby fan when the Welsh win.
The impact of sport has been noticed by politicians throughout history and has therefore resulted in regular hijackings by governments and activists to either promote a cause or glorify the nation. The reason so many governments get behind an Olympic bid is not simply because they think it would give people something nice to do for the summer. It is widely known that an Olympics is used to create a ‘Shop Window Effect’, an opportunity by which a national government can project onto the international community a positive successful image of the host nation. The Beijing Olympics is arguably most famous for using the games as a way to show the world of a new, efficient and strong China. Yet they are not alone, with London 2012 similarly used by Westminster as a way to show off our cultural diversity and rise out of the recession like a phoenix from the flame.
Politics in the Olympics is common place and Sochi 2014 is no exception, however, arguably, this games is blighted by a much sinister issue. The Winter Olympics is not usually subject to as much controversy as its older summertime brother, however the debate in 2014 surrounds the significance of Russian domestic policy. Last year the government banned the promotion of ‘non traditional’ sexuality and introduced a law that made it punishable to provide under-18’s with information on homosexuality. In a ‘democratic’ nation deemed to be a World leader, this clear breach of equality has caused an uproar across Western Europe.
Russia has never been one for transparent democracy, with corruption and persecution under Putin’s strong grip resembling a strict authoritarian state. Don’t get me wrong I understand the US and UK are not always clean cut at times as well. Yet the Russian government have slipped up by bringing into force clear measures that result in the persecution of a minority group, in the same year that the World is watching their every move.
Along with other issues such as the £30 billion price tag of the Winter Olympics, Russia has come under extensive scrutiny from an array of critics, deflecting a significant amount of attention from the athletes and the purpose of the Games. Now it feels as if these Olympics will be remembered for the actions of a government rather than the achievements of sports men and women who have trained their entire lives for this one shot.
A rumour of boycotting the games was been thrown around for some time, with many placing pressure on the sponsors to withdraw. Lets just say the Coca-Cola marketing team are treading very carefully. In the end all nations decided to compete, however that did not mean unrest around the Games was over.
Whilst the BBC battened down the hatches continuing on with their coverage of the sport, Channel 4 decided to take another approach. The organisation revealed their support for the LGBT cause throughout Friday night broadcasting brandishing their logo in the rainbow colours and even putting together this entertaining and impacting video.
Rather then boycotting, groups are now using the Olympics to highlight the draconian laws of the Russian Government, and its not just in the UK where it is happening.
Whether it is right or wrong to use sports to highlight a political cause, you have to admire the creativity of groups in spreading the message.
But when a sports event is used for another cause who truly loses out? Arguably, the athletes.
This is bigger than the athletes I hear you cry, yes that may be, but as a sports fan I find myself regularly deflated by the use of sport for external means. Politicians and activists are not there on those cold mornings when an athlete has to get up at six in the morning to train in the rain and cold, usually on little funding and with only themselves to rely on. By hijacking a sporting event for a political cause is denying another minority group of people getting their chance to fulfill their lifetime achievement and receive the credit they deserve. The abuse presenter Claire Balding, a homosexual women simply doing the job she loves, has received from campaigners who claim she has betrayed them, is , arguably, just as sinister and unfair as the policies layed down by the Russian Government
And if we look back into the history books what do groups truly gain by using sport as a political tool. The Munich Olympics in 1936 were used by Hitler to show the dominance of the Aryan race, yet they were humiliated by the perfection of Jessie Owens. The US and Russia both boycotted Olympic Games during the Cold War period, yet looking back who actually gained anything from doing that?
It is a hard issue to deal with as I do support the campaign against Russia’s discriminative domestic policy, with everyone deserving the chance to express themselves freely in a democratic society. However at the same time I also support the athletes, such as Jenny Jones, who have done an amazing job and should be the ones remembered in thirty years’ time when we look back at Sochi 2014.
In a world so divided, sport stands alone in its ability to join people together. This should remain its purpose, and the further it merges with politics the sadder this world will become.
By Philip Roser