These Are … Whose Games?

By | January 30, 2014

It’s snowing white plump butterflies and all I can think of is snow tumbles and plain silly fun. Snowfall with chubby snowflakes is as quiet as can be, but also loud in what it evokes in one’s soul. Winter magic, you know.

To that, one could add the titillating countdown to the Winter Olympics in Sochi and there you have it: winter fun, hard work, celebration of people dedicating so much of themselves for the love of the game. Soul inebriation at its best. If you have severe tunnel vision that is…

Why? I will explain.

I was never a dedicated armchair sports fan but the Olympic Games have a way of tying most of us down and making us rub our hands with excitement and anticipation. Witnessing the magic in intoxicating, isn’t it?

Yet as the time of the Sochi Olympic Games approaches the magic fades, only partially, one could hope, making way for the somber reality to set in.

The games this year are the most taxing so far in the history of Olympic Games, according to many experts. Sochi residents are confronted with the least glamorous side of it. They are poorer than ever before and have given up the hope that their neighborhoods will be upgraded to livable status. There are half-demolished outhouses that you have to wade through muck to get to. The contrast with the sparkling details of the side of the community where the games are taking place is shameful at best. And humiliating, in the midst of all that winter sparkle.

No one could have predicted the present decrepit reality of the ‘invisible’ Sochi seven years ago when the rather worn-out Black Sea resort was awarded the great honour of hosting the Olympic Games.

Stop at that for a bit. Honour.

There is no honour in pushing people into squalor. Socially speaking, the games will unfortunately increase an existing inequality.

It’s a struggle to find the concept of honour reflected in most aspects of this year’s big games, which is a shame and an insult to all athletes and their supporters. Estimated to be the most expensive, at a cost of over $50 billion dollars, the Sochi Games have, for starters, an environmental footprint that will take years, if at all, to erase. Large areas have been deforested, rivers and large patches of land have been soiled, and sponsors like Gazprom have their name up in gold letters as supporters of winter fun.

A petition originated by SumOfUs.org is fighting to get people to boycott the imprisonment of two Orca whales in a dolphinarium at the Sochi Olympic Games. Bad karma? You could say so. Our actions paint our image after all. We are what we look at, you’d have to agree. Imprisoned animals in this case.

There are stories of corruption and large sums of money being pocketed by the already rich ones just like there are stories of many migrant workers who were not paid their hard earned wages after the work was done. Inequality hurts terribly when you’re on the wrong side of the equation.

There are threats of terrorist attacks from groups that have claimed a couple of suicide bombing attacks last month in the nearby city of Volgograd.

In the light of all of this, the question is: What has become of the glory of the Olympic Games? There are giant concerns, some of which were briefly shared above, and more will come to light. Athletes should not have to concern themselves with possible terrorist attacks, social or political issues that taint the coming together of many nations in celebration of winter sports.

Sochi citizens should benefit from being the hosts of such a major sports event. Instead, they see a parallel world that is being built right in their backyard (for some literally,) a world that is surreal and glamorous, a world that most of them will never get to even visit let alone enjoy once the games are over.

The Olympic Games should be about the joy of competing and displaying the fruit of years of training hard and believing you can surpass your wildest and highest expectations. A celebration of sportsmanship, a learning experience of gigantic proportions and memories to last a lifetime.

I know what you’re thinking. Big games are also about big money. And politics finds its way into the big games as well. True enough. But principles should be there too. As a sign of respect to the nature of the game, as a tribute to humanity and as a way to elevate people’s spirits. The Olympic Games should not just be for the benefit of a handful of athletes, sponsors or organizers. After all, the Olympic flame is still burning after many years, the image of an ideal that is not allowed to die. Why do we allow our common values to take a plunge then?

The question remains: Why take away so much of the magic of the games from the people who work the hardest to get there, from those who offer their space to host it and from all of us who believe in witnessing such monumental events? There’s sweat and dreams rolled up in hope, there’s expectations and joy. They should not, at any time, be soiled by less than acceptable standards, environmentally, socially and politically speaking.