Olympic Games Deserve a Chance
Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 02:02
On Friday, Russia will lift the veil on the 2014 iteration of the Winter Olympic Games, but many in the world are approaching Sochi with a deep sense of unease.
The first cause for concern cropped up late last June, when Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a set of laws prohibiting the teaching of “nontraditional sexual practices to minors.” Putin’s heavy-handed attempt to shield his country’s youth drew the ire of gay rights activists in the West and certainly did little to make the many gay and lesbian athletes arriving in Sochi for the games feel welcome.
A few weeks ago, a media report estimated that the cost of the Sochi Games would approach $50 billion — a price tag far greater than any other Olympic Games. Last week, many members of the world press arrived in Russia only to find out that their hotels were still under construction and would certainly not be ready in the next two weeks. Furthermore, terrorism remains an ever-present threat with two attacks having already occurred only a few hours to the north in Volgograd last December.
However, while the issues facing the Sochi Games are certainly serious, it is important to remember that judging an Olympic Games before the opening ceremony can be a futile endeavor. While four years later we recall the Vancouver games as a truly Canadian affair — polite, fun and well-run — 24 hours after the opening ceremonies, The Guardian and other media outlets warned that they risked being the “worst ever.” Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a tragic high-speed crash during training, and warm weather and rain — a problem Sochi may also face — knocked out some of the early events. Protestors also blocked an entire busload of spectators, causing them to miss their event.
Nearly a decade before Vancouver, the Salt Lake City games were mired in controversy in the wake of allegations that the bid organizers bribed International Olympic Committee members to select Salt Lake as the host city. A little-know turn-around artist by the name of Mitt Romney was brought in to resuscitate the wounded organizing efforts.
On the Summer Olympics side, the weeks and months leading up to the London games were certainly no different. Organizers were forced to play defense in the wake of scandals over the ineptitude of the games’ security contractors and controversial plans to heavily regulate traffic in and around London. Once again, the media wondered if the IOC had made a huge mistake in its choice of host city. Yet surprisingly, in each of these instances the pre-games fear never really played out. Salt Lake, London and Vancouver are generally remembered as largely successful fortnights, even in spite of their inauspicious starts.
As the world anxiously waits to see what will happen in Sochi, it is worth remembering that the Olympic Games are a massive undertaking whose 10-figure price tags do not necessarily account for the unparalleled national and local efforts necessary for their staging. Without the actual events to distract our attention, it is inevitable that the global media will focus our attention on whatever problems have cropped up, rather than preparation for the games. In so many cases we don’t see all that has gone right until the games really get underway.
Challenges like incomplete hotels, controversial laws and very real threats from terrorists probably make Sochi’s task as daunting as any an organizing committee has faced in the days leading up to the lighting of the Olympic torch. From the beginning, Sochi and the surrounding region needed a radical transformation in order to be ready to host the world. Yet looking beyond the headlines, it appears that by and large much of that has been sufficiently accomplished, and when the games open on Friday, the athletes can finally take center stage.
No host city, country or Olympic Games will ever be perfect. Let’s remember that over the next two weeks, and let’s keep our eyes focused on the sporting spectacle to which we are treated every two years.
Drew Cunningham and Ethan Chess are seniors in the college. The Third Half appears every Tuesday.