Since their founding in 1896, every Olympics has arrived with the promise to unite the world. One can still hear the lyrical words of the man who presided over the 1936 Berlin games, Chancellor Adolf Hitler, who said that he hoped his Nazi Olympics could help “knit the bonds of peace between nations.”
Hitler’s dream of using the vessel of what is known as “the Olympic Movement” to create a harmonious world has tragically never come to pass, despite the best efforts of the aristocrats in the International Olympic Committee. Tragically, their efforts have been undone by the pesky people being given the glorious gift of the games. As champion of the Nazi Olympics, and longtime leader of the IOC, Avery Brundage wrote about his critics, “Warped mentalities and cracked personalities seem to be everywhere and impossible to eliminate.” In Vancouver there were people chanting about the Olympics and indigenous rights. In Atlanta, the ACLU was up in arms about the jailing of thousands of young black men in advance of the 1996 games. In Greece back in 2004, there were armies of the ungrateful yammering about the exploding price tag and the deaths of Olympic workers. In Beijing, we heard carping about “human rights” and the crushing of dissent. In England, there were nattering nabobs of negativism dulling the Olympic shine by asking why fears of terror attacks were being used to harass activists, not to mention their whining about the extensive use of surveillance drones and cell phone monitoring.
At every Olympics, you can cue the complaints, getting in the way when all we’re trying to do is enjoy a good luge.
Yet it took a visionary like Vladimir Putin, a man with the pecs to match his steely will, to finally figure out a way to unite the world and make the Olympics something for everybody. Everyone, thanks to Putin, has something to care about during the 2014 Sochi Games.
If you are a person with even the mildest concern for anything outside the five feet in front of your face, then this Olympiad is for you. No matter your cause, no matter your passion, Vladimir Putin has given you something to perk up about.
Is your issue the corruption of crony capitalism? Well, Sochi will be the site of the most expensive Olympics in history with a $51 billion price tag, a cool $40 billion over budget, $30 billion of which has somehow magically disappeared in the cavernous pockets of the powerful.
Do you care about LGBT rights? These Olympics promise a cascade of athlete activism against Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws. This legislation, as Jeff Sharlet wrote from Moscow, have made life a living hell for Russia’s LGBT residents. Expect a fierce and spirited competition over which country will punish their athletes most harshly for speaking out.
Is your issue indigenous rights? The Sochi Games are taking place on the very grounds of the 1864 Circassian genocide, which took place exactly 150 years ago. Sochi is even a Circassian word, not that you will hear that in the Olympic coverage. Nor will you see much of a Circassian presence on camera. As Dana Wojokh, an organizer of Circassian descent from the organization No Sochi 2014, said to me, “By building the games on top the anniversary of the Circassian genocide, Putin is doing more than disrespecting our ancestors or usurping our history. Nine in ten Circassians live in diaspora, with no right of return, while Russia is spending $51 billion to invite the world and celebrate atop a site of our gravest tragedy.”
What about worker’s rights? Since 2009, as many as sixty workers have died in the rush to build Olympic facilities. Many more have been damaged in workplace accidents. The Building and Wood Workers’ International has pledged to demonstrate at the Russian embassy in Geneva. It issued a statement that read, “There is blood in the snows of Sochi and the impunity of workers’ exploitation has to stop.”
Perhaps your issue is the environment. Despite the claims of Russian Olympic officials that they were going to build “an environment in harmony with nature,” their idea of ”harmony” is decidedly off-key. From a “former wetlands buried under two metres (6.5 feet) of crushed rock” to polluted water, to a “wrecked habitat, destroyed wildlife populations and bungled attempts to remedy the consequences,” the environment has been written off as collateral damage to the staging of the games. As Sochi is steeped in very real concerns about terrorism, environmentalists that have raised concerns about the wetlands are finding themselves behind bars for the duration of the games, with one leading activist imprisoned for “swearing in public.”
What about animal rights? Well, Russian Olympic officials have announced the mass extermination of stray dogs. One dog had the temerity to interrupt a dress rehearsal of the opening ceremonies, so now they will all collectively pay for his impudence. As Alexei Sorokin, the head of the contracted “pest control” company said, “A dog ran into the Stadium, we took it away. God forbid something like this happens at the actual opening ceremony. This will be a disgrace for the whole country.”
Let’s say you understand that injustice is a part of life, and you value a free press’s role in reporting what is happening. There will be no free press in Sochi. The Russian government passed a decree in November to “collect telephone and Internet data of the Games’ organizers, athletes, and others, with particular emphasis on journalists.” The text of this law was then published in the state newspapers, an act of press intimidation unto itself. Reporter friends of mine are taking out their cell phone batteries as they walk in between events so they cannot be monitored. The NSA must be having nocturnal emissions at the mere thought of it all.
You have to hand it to Vladimir Putin. We would not be able to raise these myriad issues without Putin’s determination to use the Olympics to “remake a region” on the backs of Russia’s most vulnerable, no matter the cost in blood or treasure. He is everything the International Olympic Committee has ever wanted in a world leader. So the next time someone knocks Putin and the Olympics, just remember: they have united people across the world… in collective disgust.