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Sochi Olympic games reveal human rights struggles, departure from athletic spirit

The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia have finally come to a close, but not without a ton of attention, a bit of scandal and a gold and total medal triumph by the Russians.
While thousands of athletes have spent the last four years, and debatably their entire formative years, preparing for these Olympic events, very little attention seemed to be focused on the athletes and their preparation.

Think about it. During the Olympics, we heard more about the terrible conditions in Russia than the sports. The unfinished hotels that didn’t even have doors, elevators or bathrooms. The awful mass killings of dogs and the discrimination against LGBT people were unacceptably common occurrences. It raises the question: should the Olympics have been held in Sochi at all?

Yes, a lot goes into choosing these locations, but among the most important is acceptance of the candidate cities by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board. The IOC knew of Russia’s human rights abuses, yet chose it as a safe, conducive venue for the 2014 Winter Games. The Sochi Olympics turned into a microcosm of so many issues that are occurring all over the world. Displays of protests against the intolerance of gay marriage, pulling out in solidarity of the bloody uprising in Ukraine—it became so much less about the sports than what it meant for athletes from all of these countries to be together in one controversial area.

The IOC President Thomas Bach declared the Sochi Winter Olympics an “extraordinary success” according to the Sacramento Bee, and Russians have been ecstatic, claiming that the preparation that Sochi took to host the Winter Olympics shows that the country as a whole has come so far since its communist years. Sochi organizing committee President Dmitry Chernyshenko told USA Today, “Russia has delivered on its promise. … We have proven we can take on any challenge … It is a great moment in our history. A moment that will never be forgotten. This is the new face of Russia, our Russia. … We did it!”

Yet many are less than encouraged: CBS reported that critics of “Russia’s backsliding on democracy and human rights under Putin and its institutionalized intolerance of gays” were not impressed by the Sochi winter games. The brief, shining moment for Russia in hosting a decent Olympics is not enough to cover up the horror happening around the world that was highlighted here.

The Verge reported, “Transforming Sochi into a winter wonderland entailed reported expenditures of $51 billion—far more than any Olympics in history—as the Kremlin sought to showcase Russia’s economic might on the global stage.” At what point will the Olympics refocus on what they’re supposed to be all about: the athletes and the sports? No Olympian, reporter, journalist or native should have to fear for his or her life in a place where personal skill and team camaraderie are supposed to be celebrated. News reports coming from the Olympic site shouldn’t have to mention issues of human rights or terrorism, and a country shouldn’t have to shell out billions of dollars just to try to convince us all that they’re on the right track.

The website states that the first Olympics “had a secular character and aimed to show the physical qualities and evolution of the performances accomplished by young people, as well as encouraging good relations between the cities of Greece.” Yet quite evidently, the controversial state of host city seems, at least this year, to have cast a nasty shadow on the success of the young athletes and the growth of good relations between countries.

And now, we as a world look to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea and hope that history won’t, in fact, repeat itself. But in a location so near to a global terror threat in North Korea, doubts are arising what the site will mean for athletes. CBC reported, “There is no way to tell whether a country as closed and paranoid as North Korea would consider entering the 2018 Games.”

Russians consider the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games a success, critics aren’t convinced, and the future remains unknown. Hopefully the Pyeongchang Games will return to the principles of individual and team athletic success and the encouragement of international peaceful relations. Only time will tell.

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Sochi Olympic games reveal human rights struggles, departure from athletic spirit