As this issue of Parvati Magazine goes to print, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games are taking place in Sochi, Russia, to tremendous worldwide attention and at significant expense.
When athletes achieve new greats in human potential, aligning with their joy, their performances can be electrifying and inspiring. Their joy in victory – or their heartbreak when things don’t go well – can provoke great sympathy and emotion on the part of viewers at home.
We are in favor of people living to their fullest potential, in alignment with their life purpose – whether that is pushing a bobsled, speed skating, or something less televised like driving a bus or raising a child. But it’s fair to take a look at what else is going on in Sochi, whose Olympic theme is “Hot. Cool. Yours.”
To begin with, the broadcast rights for covering the Olympic Games cost a pretty penny and only some broadcasters are given the right to use footage from the games – at significant expense. They can only use what they are provided, and afterwards, they don’t own the footage. This is a decision by the International Olympic Committee – why? Who benefits, other than their coffers?
More seriously, why did the International Olympic Committee decide to award a Winter Olympics to a venue where the average temperature in February is well above freezing and the only snow is artificial or brought from elsewhere? Figure skating and speed skating, being in indoor rinks, can take place anywhere – but skiing and snowboarding events are greatly affected by warm temperatures making snow sticky and mushy.
The venue had no real infrastructure – it existed as a summer resort, not a winter destination – and everything has had to be built from scratch at exorbitant cost, in processes rife with corruption and kickbacks. Russia paid $50 billion to build the infrastructure to host the games in Sochi. This is more than the cost of all of the previous Winter Olympics put together. Even then, hotels were not ready for journalists when they arrived to cover the games.
While the venues were being built, construction workers fed the nearby stray dogs. Now that the venues are built and the stray dogs have multiplied, they are being considered a nuisance and the dogs have been rounded up and killed. Only the tireless work of dog rescuers has managed to bring some to safety outside of the city, and some athletes are working to adopt dogs and bring them home to their own countries.
Meanwhile, people have been displaced from their land so that the venues could be constructed. Environmentally sensitive forests have been logged to clear space for ski venues. And the anti-gay stance adopted by Russia, requiring athletes to refrain from “gay propaganda” (such as wearing rainbows), makes these Games a dangerous place to be for openly gay athletes.
Beyond the Olympic venues, where sod has hastily been rolled down over the mud and spray-painted green, there are unfinished or shoddy buildings that have been covered over with false fronts to look better than they are. In some ways, that’s what’s happening with these Games. An emotional connection with athletes whose names we only remember every four years becomes the false front for misuse of money and disrespect for nature. Those who dedicate their lives to excellence in their field deserve better than this. If these Olympic Games are “hot, cool, yours”, then it’s not a very flattering reflection of who we are as a society.