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Some thoughts on Sochi selection as Olympic host

So, Winter Olympics in Sochi. Manifestly due to direct involvement of charismatic Putin, who popped up in Guatemala and charmed IOC members in French and English, swaying the majority in Russia’s favor.

One of my Russian friends, whom I correspond with regularly and who is avowedly apolitical, has sent me a hyperventilating email with repeated verbiage around “our victory”, “a shot of adrenalin”, “the might of the country”… I can only imagine the hysteria in Russian mass media – actually, I’ve read a few articles, nothing to imagine there. Putin is now only an inch away from being anointed a saint. Irina Rodnina, discussing the suggestion of Putin opening the Games in 2014, agreed that it will certainly be appropriate regardless of which position he will occupy at the time; then, matter-of-factly, “In truth, people of Russia are not against him doing that in his presidential capacity”…

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I am very happy for Russian people, especially those apolitical ones who find true excitement in a momentous event such as this. Olympics in my lifetime have always cost their hosts a lot of financial and logistical troubles, while hardly bringing long-lasting benefits for the future after the Games. So, I don’t want to be part of hosting the Olympics (yep, take it as a promise – in 2012 you will not find me residing in London), nor do I believe that it is such a great thing for the local populace (although I’ve heard that house prices in Sochi are doubled overnight – at least some people will find themselves seriously better off). But I still sincerely congratulate anyone who views this as a cause for exhilaration.

What bugs me is an implicit approbation of what Russia currently is that comes with this decision. Or is it acquiescence? For the Games in Moscow – selection happened in early 70’s, at the height of Cold War, – in had to be the latter, and it is certainly not out of the question that a sizable part of international community today feels obliged to allow something of considerable importance to increasingly belligerent – but also, to some, very friendly, – Russia. But IOC vote is supposed to be politics-free, and surely selection of Beijing has already been wrapped into notions of “breaking the barriers”, improving international relations, and such. After corruption scandals linked to Salt Lake City selection, I am reluctant to give IOC the benefit of the doubt, but what the hell, let’s say that they had cleaned up their act, and Sochi won because their portfolio was the best (and neither Austrian Chancellor, nor South Korean Premier could make a dent in it once Putin got involved – not that they tried, in any case). Regardless of the motives or the quality of the bid, that decision allows Putin to grow his “legend” and validates advances of authoritarianism in present day Russia. If not for that, I might have been just as ecstatic about Olympics happening almost literally in the backyard of my birthplace…

On a cursory note, Putin always seemed to me to possess the emotional range of an inanimate object and the conversational charm of a parking violations officer. Now hearing him speak can apparently alter the decisions of royalty and assorted luminaries that comprise the IOC. Would I be similarly awed if turning up in his presence? Maybe I do not like him simply because I do not know him enough…

The last obvious thought is that a pattern emerges. First Blair, now Putin. Whoever is the American president in two years, that person will certainly possess an abundance of charisma compared to Dubya. Chicago is a candidate for 2016 Olympics. If we send our president to pitch, it’s a slam dunk. At the moment, the competitors are Shinzo Abe, Lula, Jose Luis Zapatero (or could it be King Juan Carlos?), Vaclav Klaus and Sheikh Hamad. Even Hillary should be able to beat this bunch handily.

I have re-read what I’ve written and started to regret my choice of topic for today. The alternative ruminations were on craziness around 07/07/07 date. Or, I could have described our wonderful outing to Hever Castle in Kent. Too bad I felt compelled to express my views on the Olympic host selection – but it is also too late to re-write the post. I promise to revert to chronicling our adventures very soon.

Posted in Russia

2 Comments

  1. Dima

    With Abramovich, Deripaska, and Potanin support, I may be bullish on the financial side of these Olympics.
    Unfortunately for the Russian people, this Olympic craziness will completely preoccupy the majority of them from being “actively” (with thinking) involved in the 2007-08 election process.
    So as my “friend” Borat would say re: Putin and his team, “GREAT SUCCESS!!!!”.
    On the other hand, may be Russia will refocus onto its internal business and cooperate better (read: play nice) with the West – only time will tell.

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