Political controversies are taking over the Olympics, which is unfortunate when this shouldn’t ever be the case. Athletic performances should be the focus, not a country’s politics.
On Feb. 7, with much pomp and circumstance, competitors will march into the Fischt stadium in Sochi, Russia waving the flags of their home countries to officially open the 22nd Olympic Winter Games.
But no matter what happens during the course of the games, who wins or what country will place first in the medal tally, I will remember something different. What I will remember is that in the months leading up to these Olympics, the narrative has not been about the athletes but instead the political controversies surrounding Russias as the host country.
We should be focused on the athletes taking centre stage, but instead the world chooses to direct its attention on the host country and the controversial policies it has implemented, effectively distracting everyone from the simple act that lies at the heart of the Olympic Games: a sporting competition.
This year’s event has had no shortage of controversies. While these games started with a projected budget of US$12 billion, due to extensive spending the budget has expanded to over $51 billion — making the Sochi Olympics the most expensive games in history. But the debate extends beyond simple finances.
Russia has a controversial track record regarding human rights — due in no small part to the country’s current stance on LGBTQ issues. While homosexuality is decriminalized in Russia, the ability to openly express homosexuality is prohibited.
None of these controversies are excusable — in fact, they are deplorable. LGBTQ rights are a major issue being addressed in Russia and around the world. They are, and I cannot stress this enough, one of the most important social and political topics that currently exist in the world today — and they will continue to be important in the years to come.
But the Olympics are a competition unlike any other. Instead of watching highly paid athletes compete, we watch top-tier athletes receive very little or no pay while participating in events that often go unnoticed simply for the glory of representing their home nation.
The Olympics are supposed to be as free from politics as possible, but historically they have proven to be anything but. By the virtue of its competitors representing unique nations, it is difficult for any Olympic Games to be free of political affiliations. Everything is viewed through a particular political lens, even the judging of individual events.
Vladimir Putin, the current president of Russia, has not made the political nature of the Olympics any less apparent. When responding to questions about Russia’s policy on LGBTQ, his responses have been noncommittal at best and perplexing at worst.
In a recent statement, Putin claimed that when gay people are in Russia they can “feel calm and at ease” just as long as they “leave the kids alone.” What does that even mean? Those who are apart of the LGBTQ community are not trying to corrupt anyone, they are simply trying to be themselves and live their lives.
While the implication that the LGBTQ community targets minors is incredibly disturbing, it should not receive as much attention as it already has. Due to the large focus on Russia’s human rights, other controversial or unique stories have fallen to the wayside or been ignored altogether.
For the first time in 12 years, a Jamaican bobsled team will be making their way to the Olympics. Made up of Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon, the two-man team is currently seeking donations through PayPal to raise the $80,000 needed for their trip to Sochi. In under three weeks the world will be able to see how Jamaica’s long absence from the bobsled scene has affected their chances of gold.
And let’s not forget Canada’s remarkable results in the last winter Olympics. We not only hosted the games in Vancouver, B. C. but won gold in a sport at an Olympic games we had hosted for the first time in Canadian history.
Canada won 14 gold medals in total at the Vancouver Olympic Games, breaking the previous Canadian record of the most gold medals of 13. We may not be hosting the winter Olympics this time around, but the chances of Canada producing another spectacular performance are very high.
So why are these other news stories not the focus of the media? Russia’s domestic and internal policies should not be the central focus of the media coverage leading up to these Olympics.
The spotlight should be centered on the athletes and the sports they compete in, not the politics surrounding them. The media should focus on the unique stories that are presented by the athletes and coaches, not the countries and the policies they represent.
The plight for LGBTQ rights around the world is an important one and attention should be brought to this battle in Russia, but the sole focus should not be on that plight. The Olympics are apolitical and they should stay that way.