For more than 100 years, the Olympic games have brought nations together to celebrate the spirit of competition, captivating audiences across the world with amazing stories of success and heart-wrenching moments of failure.
It has long been a way for the world to set aside differences and focus on the accomplishments of extraordinary men and women across the globe — for each country to show the world what it is made of. Often it brings camaraderie, as the world roots not only for their own athletes, but for those who have struggled long and hard to make it to the games.
But the climate surrounding the 2014 Sochi Olympics has changed. From the start, the location of the games has been embroiled in controversy — controversies which are now overshadowing the accomplishments of our athletes.
Seven years ago, the International Olympic Committee selected Sochi, Russia to host the Winter Olympics in a process that had some calling foul. The city beat out Salzburg, Austria and Pyeonchang, South Korea for the honor, though both cities are better acclimated for winter sports and would require less funding to host the games.
Many claimed it was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s influence that swayed the IOC in its favor, as Pyeonchang was ranked higher than Sochi in the first round of bids. The 2014 Olympics got off to a controversial start, and things have only escalated since.
The Olympic story of glory and defeat has been overshadowed by the political overtones of the location. Not only was the selection process controversial, but since it won the bid, Russia has faced threats of terrorism from within its country, as well as accusations that Putin is trying to use the Olympic games primarily to boost his political image. The entire world is talking now not about the athletes who have worked long and hard to represent their countries, but instead about the “what ifs” of the games.
Activists around the world have opposed Russia as the host of the games, citing horrendous human rights violations, most specifically about the rights of gays and lesbians. This has left questions of what will happen in the Olympic village — will openly gay and lesbian athletes be safe? Will we see a protest in support of Russia’s LGBT community? Will a homegrown Russian terror group spoil the world’s party? But an athlete’s sexuality should not be at the forefront of our discussion, nor should concerns about safety (be it from persecution by the host country or terrorist threats). By this time, we should be gearing up to cheer on our favorite athletes, watching as they qualify to compete and enjoying a spirit of camaraderie.
If the Olympics is to maintain its spirit and see the focus turn once again to the competition, the IOC will have to more carefully consider who it awards Olympic bids to. Otherwise, we could see the future destruction of the Olympic games embroiled in controversy that dissuades participation.
We can only hope that once the games begin, nothing overshadows the importance of the Olympic spirit and the Olympic athletes.