As the Olympic Games were kicked off today in Sochi, Russia, I’m feeling very conflicted.
I imagine this is a feeling shared by many.
As soon as the location was announced, there was a great deal of dissent, trepidation and doubt voiced about the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s choice of location for the 2014 games. When it was first announced, security was the primary concern, spiraling into debate about the suppression of citizen rights, including the right to protest (highlighted by the arrest of members of the protest band Pussy Riot), and particularly the rights of LGBT Russians being brought into the spotlight as the country passed laws against what they describe as “LGBT propaganda”.
So where does that leave those that participate in, sponsor, support and view the Games?
And many ask the question “couldn’t we just set the politics aside and just enjoy the Olympics?”
I don’t think we can. Or at the very least, I don’t think that we should.
Political concerns surrounding the Games is not new. Nor are the questions about how we should proceed. Reactions span from personal boycotts and requesting major sponsors to withdraw or at least speak out about political/human rights issues, to those tuning out the issues to support their country and recognize those that have battled to become the best in their field to compete on the world stage, representing their country. My take is that we can and should embrace both views.
In some ways, it would be so easy to get lost in the astounding spectacle, pomp and ceremony. The Olympics can be a time of wonderful distraction, seeing the top athletes of the world in two weeks of some of the toughest events in sport. At their best, the Games can remind us of our shared humanity, as well as remind us what it means to us to belong to a particular country. Everyone that watched the game can likely describe in detail exactly where they were when Sid Crosby scored the gold metal goal in Vancouver – I was watching the game with Sarah in our downtown apartment as newlyweds, startling Snoopy and Beatrix out of naps as we cheered.
But in many ways, it is all a beautiful illusion.
It isn’t the Hunger Games, watching our children battle in a contest of humiliation and dominance, but there is a dark side to all the bright lights.
The Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games cost an estimated $10B, $10,000,000,000., with taxpayers footing $1B. When our First Nations people continue to struggle in what are basically third-world conditions inside Canada, as highlighted by the ongoing situation in Attawapiskat, it seems astounding to spend this kind of money on a sporting event. It leaves many to wonder – are the Olympics even worth it? Or should they at least be toned down?
This is an ongoing debate about the Games, particularly as despite truly horrid housing conditions being reported (to the point of #SochiProblems @SochiProblems exploding on Twitter), the estimated cost of Sochi is an astounding $50B. $50,000,000,000. A truly mind-blowing number, especially considering how much humanitarian aid it could be put towards, when suspicions are arising that as much as a third of that money is disappearing into the corruption that infests Russian politics and construction/procurement. There are concerns that the Games have turned away from the events and athletes.
Plus there is the overarching human costs of the games.
Russia has been criticized by many as their stance towards homosexuality has become increasingly draconian, to the point that even Canada’s Conservative government has spoken out against it. The IOC and sponsors have been walking a very fine line, between angering the host nation by acknowledging the massive issue of these laws, and on the other side, angering large parts of the world by seemingly standing idly by as these human rights abuses take place. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the persecution, and many activists hope to use the Games to highlight that persecution.
Today, this welcome sight greeted everyone that went to the Google homepage:
And this is the sight that will be flying above the City Hall of many Canadian cities during the Games:
This may be the true power of the Games.
In my mind, we are missing out by not following the Games, but we are missing even more if we watch them without acknowledging their true cost. I believe that we can enjoy the Olympics despite where they are being hosted, yet understand those that won’t view it because to do so puts more money into those involved in the Games. However, I believe that the Games are an excellent opportunity to think about what we value and why, and to watch, share and debate the broader issues brought up by the event. The hope of Russian LGBT people and their allies is to use this time to speak out against their mistreatment, and hopefully bring further understanding and compassion for LGBT across the world. At its best the Olympics bring us together, it is my hope that these 2014 Games can still be a positive experience, and a way to extend perspective and understanding.
*I’m glad to finally be writing again! I keep saying I’ll get back into it, but with starting our prenatal lessons this week with the Health Unit, and continuing to work on putting together the nursery on weekends on top of long work weeks, I’m pretty wiped by the end of the day. I’m hoping to get into the London election discussion/coverage soon, especially as several wards (including my ward 2) have been heating up as more candidates come forward. My friend and former classmate Thomas Thayer has been writing great posts on it, his blog is a good place to get started if you’d like to read what’s been happening.