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The Sochi Winter Olympics Are Another Perfect Example Of American Hypocrisy

sochi police arresting protestors

Now that the Sochi Winter Olympics are upon us, I’ve noticed lately that the bleating of the “politically correct” police over Russia’s laws banning the advocacy of homosexuality has died off.  A couple of months ago, you couldn’t turn on you television without hearing how the Winter Olympics in Sochi are going to be a bust because the west simply won’t tolerate such archaic thinking.  Granted, the Russians have been doing a masterful job of shooting themselves in both feet, but to say the Olympic Games will be a bust because of intolerance is a ridiculous statement.

At first glance, having a bunch of athletes claiming to be humanitarians is almost laughable on its face, not because nobody takes them seriously (which you know we really don’t), because they won’t put their money where their mouths are. I thought it was absolutely hilarious when U.S. Alpine Skier Bode Miller made a thinly-veiled threat about the Olympics.

“I think it’s unfortunate when they get stuffed together because there are politics in sports and athletics,” Miller said. “They always are intertwined, even though people try to keep them separate or try to act like they’re separate. Asking an athlete to go somewhere and compete and be a representative of a philosophy and … then tell them they can’t express their views or they can’t say what they believe, I think is pretty hypocritical or unfair.”

What Miller was really saying here was that at the time, there was talk about a boycott by the American athletes as a show of protest of the Russian laws.  What’s truly funny about this is that the U.S. Olympic committee did Miller and his ilk a huge favor when they announced their official stance to athletes and others in the Olympic community that while the USOC disagrees with the laws, a boycott of the Sochi games was out of the question.

What that meant is that guys like Miller could blather all they wanted to, but could hide behind the USOC so they could do what they were going to do all along, which is go to Russia.

What kills the credibility of athletes like Miller is that nobody ever really believed a bunch of Olympians were going to pass on the pinnacle moments in their chosen sports. That’s why the USOC had to make that statement, so people like Miller could do all the posturing they wanted, without ever having to back it up.

Here’s the part where I’m going to get hate mail. As much as this may piss off a lot of people, it is time to call some people out for using the topic of Russian anti-gay bigotry as a pitard upon which they want to hoist their real target…Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Stop and think about it. Every article you’ve seen on the run up to the Sochi Games has been about how these Games will be a monumental failure for a host of reasons. And almost every one of them are topics are ones on which Americans have absolutely no  room to judge.

1) Geo-Political Near-Sightedness

The best example of this comes from completely biased affront to all thing journalistic known as Bryant Gumbel.  For some reason, Gumbel used HBO’s Real Sports a while back to do a hack-job on the Sochi Olympics, and to look at the main points made in that piece are to look at hypocrisy driven by a political agenda. To be fair, Gumbel has made no secret of his political affiliations, and there absolutely nothing wrong with that.  There’s a group of people in this country who have done nothing but mourn the demise of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union. Let’s not forget that Gorbachev was your “friendly, new age Communist” meaning that his programs of glasnost and perestroika were going to finally transform the Soviet Union from the totalitarian gerontocracy it had been under Leonid Brezhnev and his seemingly endless series of doddering successors into the modern, socialist, single-party, proletarian state western Communists had been picturing since Karl Marx.  Gumble may not be a card-carrying of that group, but chances are he wouldn’t be opposed to being on their mailing list.

That begins to explain the New American Left’s disdain for Vladimir Putin. The current Russian president is a throw back to the old-school, “Iron Curtain” Soviet Union. He was a Colonel in the KGB, the Soviet version of the CIA.  That makes it easy to portray him a s a fire-breathing despot, and his leadership style supports that.  But for the New American Left who loved Gorbachev to hate Putin is to ignore some crucial facts about Gorbachev, namely that his rise to power came through that same gerontocracy, and that Putin’s Russia resembles what Gorbachev’s Soviet Union would have been.

Why does that matter here? Because in order to understand why these people are taking all these pot-shots at Putin, you have to understand why they see him as a target in the first place.

2) Allegations Of Corruption

This one nearly doubles me over with laughter. For an American to point fingers at another country’s government over corruption is to completely overlook the fact that government in America at virtually every single level for the better part of the last half-century at least. When it comes to the Olympics, the charge against Putin is that he is spending upwards of $50 billion to put on a massive public relations campaign for the world under the guise of winter sport.  The drum-beat is that his Olympics will cost more than any other Winter Games, and that it is all a giant “get rich quick” scheme. Let’s break that down.

Let’s start with the number, because it catches the most attention because it is the easiest to understand. The $50 billion dollar number is an estimated grand total; that is not just a number spent of a public relations campaign. When you stop to consider that it costs close to $2 billion to build a modern stadium, then consider all the venues, housing and facilities that had to be built in what is essentially a resort town which had no existing facilities, $50 billion suddenly becomes not such an outrageous number. The Chinese were in a similar situation when they spent $43 billion on the 2008 Summer Games, which when you factor in that was six years ago, and given the fluctuations in material costs, labor, and the difference in currencies, $50 billion certainly isn’t an outrageous number.

Then, there’s the “get rich quick scheme” angle. Well, no shit it’s a “get rich quick scheme,” if by that you mean a venture intended to either make money on the event itself, to showcase Russia as a place for investment, or both.  Let’s be honest, Russia right now has more true economic growth potential than the U.S. or anywhere else in Europe does.  Russia is a country floating on a fortune of raw materials, not the least of which are gold and oil. The problem is a great deal of those resources are under the perma-frost of Siberia, where there are technology and expense issues involved in extracting them.

It’s also a “get rich quick scheme” if your definition of “quick” is a time-scale on the order of a decade and then some. It’s not like you wake up one morning, and somewhere over coffee and juice you wave a wand and POOF, you’re hosting an Olympiad.  Host sites are selected seven years before the opening ceremonies begin, and there”s plenty of preparatory work that has to happen to make even the rawest potential site (such as Sochi) suitable to even submit a bid.

In other words, hosting an Olympiad is not a “scheme” as it is an investment. If you stop to consider that the West is the perfect place from which to curry those investment funds, then it makes sense to host an event which will be broadcast non-stop in every Western country, and it makes sense to make sure those broadcasts showcase your country as a place where investments can pay off. To picture it on a smaller scale, stop to consider why Mikhail Prokorov, a Russian oil and gas magnate, bought the New Jersey Nets, built a new arena in Brooklyn, and keeps bringing experts in oil and gas technology to his owner’s box. Because he’s doing the same thing Putin is doing; in his own way, he’s attracting Western technology and money which is sorely needed to maximize the resource potential Russia has.

However, since the people tossing the accusations generally don’t understand the machinations of macroeconomics, everybody gets wrapped up in the numbers, and when presented with the realities as I have done, they resort to charges of “cronyism.” For example, the accusations are flying about how lucrative contracts are going toward Putin’s connections; a central tale in the Real Sports piece was about a 30-mile road built to connect the town to the mountains where events will be held, and it cost $9 billion to build. The report stated the project was awarded to a man who owns a home next to one of Putin’s houses.

When you break that down, $9 billion does seem a bit much for a road, but that number is not as off as it would first see, especially since we never get a breakdown of the costs. For example, the cost of building a garden-variety road in your typical American suburb is about $1 million per mile, but this isn’t your typical suburban road. First of all, this road goes from sea-level into the mountains, which means it has to be designed to withstand several different climes. That also means drainage and lighting will need to be built at far-above usual standards. It also has to be designed and built to handle heavy traffic to accommodate Olympic crowds.  Since most of those crowds will be visitors, there will be greatly increased signage costs.

Then there’s the issue of sub-contractors.  Just because a contract is awarded, doesn’t mean all the money in that contract will end up with the original contractor.  A perfect example is if in building a mountain road, explosive demolition had to be used to create a roadbed. This inflates costs exponentially in and of itself, not to mention it will explode (pun kind of intended) existing budgets, like labor, materials, and equipment, but adds new budgets, such as waste/debris removal. Not to mention what this does to insurance costs.

Now, even considering all that, $9 billion seems a bit much for such a project, but this could have easily been legitimately a multi-billion dollar undertaking. But when the actual figures are unknown, it’s a stretch to start slapping around the “corruption” label.

Here’s the hypocrisy part. Look at the last three Olympiads held in the United States; 1984 in Los Angeles, 1996 in Atlanta, and 2002 in Salt Lake City. Every single one of them used Olympic money to build things that were going to be used for other purposes after the Olympics, and none of them are as altruistic as what the Russians are doing. Los Angeles used the Olympics to get improvements to the Los Angeles Coliseum, which also happened to be used to secure the move of the Oakland Raiders to southern California. The Atlanta Braves got a new stadium, and the Georgia Dome got upgrades used to lure a Super Bowl.  Salt Lake City got improvements to its airport and public transit system, including an entire light-rail line.

The Real Sports piece pointed out public housing projects the Sochi area that are in disrepair; they are getting new coats of paint so that they don’t look as much like the shit-holes they really are. Granted, they are Soviet-era dumps that will collapse at the slightest ground-shake, like what happened in the 1988 Spitak quake.  But what the Russians will do is the minute the Olympics are over, the dormitories built to house Olympic athletes will become the new public housing, and the unsafe Brezhnev “Era of Stagnation” death traps will be bull-dozed.

That’s a much better use of your Olympic by-products than attracting an NFL franchise.

But here’s the kicker in this story.  Remember a few years back when President Obama went to Copenhagen to convince the International Olympic Committee to accept Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics? Remember how they rejected Chicago’s bid even before Obama’s limo made it back to the airport? That’s because they knew any money funneled into that city would end up building swimming pools in the back yards of every city councilman. How did they know that? Because the reputation of Chicago has a reputation for corrupt government that even the IOC (the organization that perfected corruption) knows makes Guatemalan elections look legitimate.

3) Obfuscation Of The Real Problem

Remember when I said that this debate features several topics on which American have no right to judge? Here’s where that is going to be become blatantly obvious.

The 2012 London Games seemed impossibly blighted by financial cutbacks. Mass social unrest caused concern as wide-scale riots took place in the streets of England’s major cities a year out from the Olympic torch being lit.

Four years earlier, the Summer Games in Beijing came under attack for the Chinese government’s role in the Darfur conflict and China’s disregard of restrictive environmental accords, which were supposed to cause dangerous respiratory discomfort for athletes.  That never happened.

Even the most recent Winter Games in Vancouver eventually shined through as a wonderful Games, but it’s no secret the 2010 Winter Games were saddled with multitudes of logistical issues.

But at the end of the day, the lingering memories of those games events are not of social issues, but of the games themselves.  Their about Michael Phelps becoming one of the greatest Olympian of all -time, or Usain Bolt seeming to defy the laws of physics for a speed at which a human being can propel themselves.  That’s because the Olympics are a  sporting competition, not an international watchdog for human rights. Now, I’m not suggesting that those who want to excoriate Russia for it’s laws shouldn’t do so; in fact I would suggest quite the opposite.

But there’s two components to being an effective advocate for a position. The first is pick you battles wisely. In this case, it’s all about timing and audience. While the Olympics may be in Russia, and while Russia may be the target of the gay rights community, that doesn’t mean the Olympics are a suitable target, because as I’ve mentioned, people are tuning into this for sports, and that’s what they will remember.

But here’s the real problem with this. While we’ve been hearing all about Russia laws prohibiting the public advocacy of homosexuality, Americans are missing a monstrously huge point in all of this. The Washington Post illustrated this problem in a stark manner. The following quotes are from similar anti-gay laws. Pick which one is from Russia.

If you chose the second one, you are wrong. That actually comes from states like  Alabama and Texas, where it is mandated that sex-education classes emphasize that homosexuality is “not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.”  The Post gets even more pointed later…

Moreover, the Alabama and Texas statutes mandate that children be taught that “homosexual conduct is a criminal offense” even though criminalizing private, consensual homosexual conduct has been unconstitutional since 2003. Eight U.S. states, and several cities and counties, have some version of what we call “no promo homo” provisions.

Here’s the fun part. While many gay rights activists were calling for the Boycott of the Sochi games, it was just a few years ago  that we held our own Winter Games in Utah, which just so happens to be one of the eight states we’re talking about.

“Materials adopted by a local school board. . . shall . . . comply with state law and state board rules . . . prohibiting instruction . . . in the advocacy of homosexuality.”

That little gem is from your very own Utah, which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics. So, where was the outcry then? There wasn’t any and for a very good reason.  Because too many people in America who call themselves activists don’t actually do anything. 50 years ago, we had the “Freedom Riders;” people who actually put their necks on the line by going to the South to end segregation. Many of them got beaten to a pulp, and some ended up dead. But they stood up for what they believed.

Today, “activists” are people who engage in a lot of sloganeering, wearing ribbons, and a lot of other generally useless blather, which is why nobody takes them seriously. You can’t change the world by posting pseudo-moralistic crap on your Facebook page; at some point, you have to get off your ass and do something.  The Post makes another salient point about this.

It was revulsion toward Nazi Germany’s eugenics policy that, in part, caused U.S. legislatures and courts to renounce state sterilization programs. Opposition to South African apartheid and the Soviet Union’s totalitarian regime generated greater national pressure for the Eisenhower administration and the Warren court to renounce apartheid in the American South.

Putin’s inability to justify this law puts a spotlight on the inability of Utah, Texas, Arizona and other states to justify their gay-stigmatizing statutes. They should be repealed or challenged in court. Just as judges led the way against compulsory sterilization and racial-segregation laws, so they should subject anti-gay laws to critical scrutiny.

In other words, it is time for Americans to quite bitching about the neighbor whose dog shits in their yard, when they won’t deal with their own dog’s business.

About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

6 comments on “The Sochi Winter Olympics Are Another Perfect Example Of American Hypocrisy

  1. J-Dub
    February 9, 2014

    Reblogged this on Sports Blog Movement.

    Like

  2. Jsportsfan
    February 9, 2014

    There’s plenty of bitching up here in Canada as well. Granted, the main reason were mad is that Russia has home-ice advantage in the hockey tournament. Still, both Vancouver and Calgary used money from the Olympics to build new housing projects and refurbish their downtowns. Calgary in particular really needed to re-gentrify their downtown following the 1988 Olympics and it has worked like a charm. The Olympic Village in Vancouver are being transformed to condos and more condos are being built around the downtown area. Plus, Canada doesn’t like Putin either but again, we’re just building up the hockey rivalry because everything in my home and native land goes back to hockey.

    Like

  3. Neil Roberts
    February 9, 2014

    The legislation in eight states is highly disturbing…the fact that that still happens in the United States is unacceptable.

    Like

    • J-Dub
      February 10, 2014

      Let me tell you what is really unacceptable. The people who bitch about what is going on in other countries and don’t even know what is happening in their own. This is why Americans have zero credibility in the rest of the world when it comes t matters such as this.

      Like

      • Neil Roberts
        February 10, 2014

        I feel ya…

        Like

  4. SportsChump
    February 10, 2014

    It’s always bad when we’re looking to Bode Miller for words of wisdom.

    I heard a journalist today, who was in Sochi covering the Olympics, say that everything was fine over there.

    He was the first one I’ve heard say that.

    Like

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