Cheer for the athletes but don’t be naive: the Olympics are about politics

The mascots for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

The mascots for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

National leaders covet the opportunity to host the international event and multi-national corporations invest billions of dollars in advertising to its massive world-wide audience. Competing in glorious national stadiums and sports centres in between commercial breaks, the athletes appear to be little more than commodities. Make no mistake, the Olympic Games are political by nature.

Controversy over Russia President Vladimir Putin‘s support for deplorable laws targeting Russia’s LGBT community has caused a media storm in advance of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

These laws have led many commentators, human rights advocates and celebrities to call for western countries to boycott of the Sochi Games.

The University of Alberta’s Kristopher Wells has argued that Canada should boycott the Sochi Games:

Given the ongoing and deeply tragic human rights abuses occurring in Russia, an Olympic boycott is not only necessary, it is of vital international importance. A boycott is not simply a message to Russia, it is a powerful statement to the world. There must be human rights for all, or there can be human rights for none. We are one world, with one heart and one love regardless of sexual orientation.

Critics of a boycott point to the negligible impact that western countries had when choosing not to send their athletes to the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. Others suggest that the public attention raised by the Sochi Olympics could “ease the plight” of Russia’s gay community.

With less than ten days before the Sochi Games’ opening ceremonies, there is little reason to believe that any western country will ask their athletes to boycott the events.

As repugnant as these laws are, the western world should not be shocked. Russia is not a liberal country and the legacy of the Soviet Union and the brutality of its government is real. The Putin government has a long history of human rights violations, cracking down on opposition critics, exploiting migrant workers and limiting press freedom.

Six years ago, I decided to personally boycott of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. I did my best to avoid television coverage the Beijing Games and did not shy away from writing about why I took that position.

The People’s Republic of China is notorious for its poor human rights record and its tendency to stifle freedom of speech among its citizens. I chose not to reward the People’s Republic’s public relations opportunity with my attention.

I am undecided whether I will extend a personal boycott of the Sochi Games. If I do choose to boycott, it will be in protest of the Russian government’s oppressive government. But I also feel a general indifference towards the entire event.

The $50 billion price-tag for the Sochi Games seems so needlessly excessive that perhaps it is time the purpose of the Olympic Games needs to be rethought. The “spirit of the Olympic Games” that we hear about every two years may live in the hearts of the athletes and their families, but it’s a reality that quickly diminishes when you put some thought to it.


Back to Alberta politics… the Court of Queen’s Bench has ordered a temporary stay on the controversial Public Service Salary Restraint Act (formerly known as Bill 46). This judicial decision temporary delays the planned January 31 implementation of the new anti-labour law which would allow the Redford Government to bypass the neutral arbitration process and impose a contract on public service employees represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. The judge will return with his decision on February 14.

2 thoughts on “Cheer for the athletes but don’t be naive: the Olympics are about politics

  1. jerrymacgp

    I used to get excited about the Olympics; for example, as a teenager, I was glued to the TV in 1976 when Nadia Comaneci scored her first perfect ’10’ in gymnastics, in Montreal. But in recent years, the Games have lost their lustre. Firstly there is the endless hype (“CBC: CANADA’S OLYMPIC NETWORK”), ratcheting up to a fever pitch six months or more before the opening ceremonies. I think it was a mistake for the IOC to stagger Olympic years, with summer & winter Games two years apart. It’s a bit like the endless American election cycle: we never get a break.

    Then there is the subtle shift from truly “amateur” athletes, competing of the love of sport, to essentially professionals, engaged in a crassly nationalistic competition for medals, medals, medals; think “Own the Podium”.

    Pah! I don’t expect to watch any of it.

  2. Pat perri

    Option 6: like jury duty, a set of Canadians are randomly appointed to 3-5 year terms. One can only be excused for compassionate reasons. One’s previous job is legally held until your return, but you can only collect the $130k senate income. Perfect representation and non-partisan.
    And any politician that doesn’t support this can be easily criticized for suggesting they don’t trust the average citizen to make decisions.

    I too no longer care about the Olympics: between the nationally supported level of cheating and the gross commercializations…any Olympic spirit has long since evaporated.


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