Dark Clouds Hanging Over the Black Sea

Putin’s admiration for the Olympic flame

The Olympics have always been about stories and narratives. Athletes in sports, both obscure and relevant, represent their countries and play out the story of their nation, whether it be powerhouse nations raking in the medals or the simple story of the Jamaican bobsled team. The ability to host the event is also a story of the rise of a nation and the ability to show either one’s might or newfound brilliance on the world stage. Back in October 2013, we looked at how the story of the Sochi Olympic games were unfolding at that time. With the Winter Olympics beginning shortly, it was time revisit our intrepid heroes and villains.

One view of the Olympics has been as a giant vanity project, allowing Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin to evict Russian citizens from their homes, crack down on NGOs, gay rights activists, and roughly anybody that disagrees with the egregious cost of these games. To this list, it has recently been added that athletes will not be allowed to speak their mind, such as their displeasure at the anti-gay propaganda laws in Russia. OIC chair Thomas Bach has already stated that, though there is freedom of speech, athletes that speak their mind around the Olympic events will face punishment. The head of the Russian Olympics, Dmitry Chernyshenko, even contradicted this, saying that the athletes would only be able to express themselves at a venue far from the Olympic venues.

Skyrocketing construction costs for the Winter Olympics in Sochi

Censorship is not the only issue plaguing the Olympics. Despite seven years to prepare, and the assurances that 97% of the venues and hotels are prepared, there have been a large amount of pictures and tweets from journalists showing half finished rooms. One hotel didn’t have a reception area while another hotel wasn’t even completed. Considering that these games cost $51 billion, $11 billion more than the Beijing Olympics, the amount of corruption and ineptitude is starting to show more and more over the media. One road has cost $8.6 million, more than the whole Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. This raises the question of whether or not these games are worth it. Supposedly, the infrastructure will stay and benefit the residents of Sochi, along with increased tourism. However, Allen Sanderson and Samantha Edds explored the question of whether Olympics have an economic impact, which they found that there is no evidence to support that.

A last branch in this narrative is a concern for the security of the event. IOC chair Thomas Bach has emphasized that these games will be safe. This mostly has to do with the massive amount of security surrounding Sochi. Roughly 40,000 security forces have been sent to the region around Sochi to prevent atrocities from happening. They have also erected a “Ring of Steel” around Sochi, with checkpoints and anti-aircraft batteries, to aid in this security. Part of the paranoia surrounding the events is that terrorist leaders in Dagestan and Chechnya located only 400 miles away, such as Doku Umarov, have already stated that they are going to target the Olympic games. The other cause for concern is the bombing in December 2013 in Volgograd, something that is considered to be a decoy to drag resources away from Sochi and make it more vulnerable. The Russians have gone so far as to contract out 400 unarmed Cossacks for the duration of the Olympics.

Security around the Winter Olympics in Sochi

Despite the lack of attendance by some world leaders, the world’s games at the Olympics will continue. One of the questions that will be asked is how much all this negative press hangs over the Olympics. What will be the effects of this event after the torch has been extinguished? This is a tale with many twists and turns, with more anti-heroes than heroes. At the least, everybody will be watching Sochi to see how the story unfolds.


Putin’s Russia and the IOC’s Olympic Charter: A Golden Chance to Enforce Human Right Principles

The Kremlin is doing itself no favors in attracting negative attention and enflaming external critics in its preparations to host the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi. The appearance of democratic institutions, pseudo-elections, and elements of press freedom have created a democratic façade that has long masked the Putin authoritarian model.  But with all eyes now on the host country, a sporting event that was supposed showcase a modern and dynamic Russia has drawn international attention to the injustices of its crony capitalist system and provides an unforeseen opportunity for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to meaningfully enforce the human rights principles embodied by the Olympic games.

At a price tag of over $50 billion, the Sochi 2014 Games will be the most expensive in history. The transformation of Sochi from a secluded winter resort on the Black Sea to an Olympic host city and premier winter sports destination also comes with dire social costs at the expense of migrant workers, an already tabooed population. Over 16,000 migrant workers from Central Asia, Ukraine, and Turkey are earning between $1.80-$2.60 an hour working on corrupt pet projects. Sochi residents have been forcefully evicted from their homes as Olympic venues are erected in their back yards.

Continue reading

Who Were the Biggest Winners (and Losers) in the Olympics?

The opening ceremony for London. 2012.

The conclusion of the 2012 Olympic Games in London offers an opportunity to reflect on the distribution of medals amongst participating countries. Most will look no further than the medal count standings to determine the most dominant countries in athletics. But is that an accurate way to judge a nation’s true performance? Many would argue that a casual glance at the medal winnings is unfairly skewed towards the bigger countries with larger populations, resources, and Olympic delegations. In response, analysts have taken into account numerous variables such as GDP, population, inflation, growth rate, unemployment, labor force, health expenditures, ex-host, and team size to provide adjusted indicators of Olympic success. Continue reading

Let the Games Begin

When one thinks of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), sport is not the first subject that comes to mind. But, according to the UN, sports can play a crucial role in a country’s development, not just for Olympic glory. In fact, some argue that athletic involvement within a country could make the MDGs more attainable.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

On July 27, 2012 Ban Ki-moon, Secretary- General of the UN, called on  “all Governments and sport organizations to provide opportunities for sport, physical activity and play.” He stated that sport “is not a luxury. It is an investment in better health, education and skills for coming generations—critical for building inclusive societies grounded in mutual tolerance and respect….when you see the magic that a ball can create among children in a shantytown or refugee camp, you see the potential that we must harness.”

The UN’s Sports for Development and Peace platform has appointed celebrity athletes as spokespersons for the causes. These individuals help the UN relay important messages about diseases, children’s rights and other issues to the greater population. Some Olympic athletes have suffered from poverty and can relate to individuals in countries attempting to reach MDGs. Paul Terget, a Kenyan marathon runner, remembers going to bed hungry often until his school adopted a school meals program. Dayron Robles, a champion hurdler from Cuba, suffered from anemia as a child due to malnutrition. These athletes, and many others, who know the value of good food and nutrition, help to bring attention to these issues and gain support for the individuals who live in poverty. Continue reading

Methods of Development | Color-Blocking the Development Process Part 2

Race is an important, and often neglected, part of the development process. It usually makes things just a bit more complicated when it comes to distribution of resources and access to education and employment. South Africa is an emerging BRICS country whose race issue has been hard to ignore because of the geographical implications of the apartheid system. However, South Africa’s efforts to counteract the effects of apartheid have been both successful and unsuccessful, creating opportunity but also allowing inequalities to persist.

Nelson Mandela and François Pienaar at the 1995 Rugby World Cup | Source: Getty and The Telegraph

South Africa’s racial inequalities took center stage in the early 1990s with the end of apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s call for South Africa to become a “rainbow nation.” This objective was portrayed in 1995 by the rugby team and Rugby World Cup, also depicted in the film Invictus. The apartheid system physically separated people of different racial origins into distinct geographical areas that limited interracial mixing. South Africa chose four categories to define its people under the apartheid system: white, Indian/Asian, coloured, and black.

Unfortunately racism persists in South Africa and leads to tumultuous political situations and violent acts. A recent example is the vocal outcry that erupted from a poster issued by South Africa’s Democratic Alliance that illustrates an interracial couple with the caption “In OUR future, you wouldn’t look twice.” Black South Africans continue to suffer disproportionately as compared with whites. As a result, affirmative action plans were implemented; helping black South Africans gain jobs and entrance to universities. Continue reading

Methods of Development | Color-Blocking the Development Process Part 1

Quotas in universities for non-white students are becoming the trend in Brazil | Source: BBC News

Two recent articles in The Economist have covered the issue of race in Brazil and South Africa. That’s two of the BRICS countries possibly hindered by something that their governments have taken very little action to remedy thus far. But how to address historical asymmetries in a political arena?

In emerging economies like South Africa and Brazil, where race was largely ignored until a few decades ago, people are still trying to decide if there’s even an issue at all.

In Brazil, differences in skin tone merit a rather large spectrum. Race in Brazil is so nuanced, for example, that one census allowed people to identify their own race—which resulted in 134 categories. Unfortunately, this spectrum has also contributed to the notion that race issues do not exist because race cannot be as concretely identified as in other countries where racial mixing was less frequent. Continue reading

Downsizing the Olympics… a necessary evil?

Sports can re-energize a city, create a profound feeling of national pride, and support businesses of all varieties.  But can sports alone develop a nation?  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) gives off the impression that their once every four year sporting extravaganza can spur development.  In fact, prospective cities pine to host the Olympics.  The draw of hosting such a prestigious event has clouded the minds of governments and civic officials vying to win hosting rights and caused them to overlook the historic economic challenges that are often associated with the Olympics.

2004 Olympics opening ceremoy in Athens

The Olympics have become an economic liability to their host cities, with the high chance of leaving a negative impact.  The 2004 Olympics in Athens were highly anticipated and produced extremely competitive and exciting sporting events.  However, the aftermath left Greece with stadiums that have become white elephants, draining millions of dollars from the Greek economy.  These stadiums have been rarely used since the August 2004 closing ceremonies—failing to capitalize on sensible opportunities to recoup some of the costs from the USD $12 billion hosting price tag. Continue reading