Olympics and Politics
Is it time to crawl under my desk yet? Like the ice and snow in Sochi, can't we have a thawing of our relationship with Russia? The continued undermining of the Sochi Games and trying to miscast Putin's Olympics as a $50 billion ego trip really needs to stop.
Even Washington's best hockey player, Alex Ovechkin, who has "defected" to the Russians for these Olympics, told the Washington Post it's enough: "Of course [the] world is changing, everybody is focusing on different stuff, political stuff, but just settle down," said Ovie, the true diplomat.
U.S. Envoy to Russia, Diplomat Michael McFaul last weekend confirmed his concerns about Russian listening devices: "That's just the state of working in Russia," said McFaul.
Putin's egomaniacal $50 billion spend in the Caucasus Mountains? Maybe that reporting is out of context. Ring of Steel? You bet, and thankfully, no major incidents on Sochi soil.
Over the past two weeks, I worked at Super Bowl Boulevard in New York, supporting the pep rally for a major soft drink and snack food maker. Last week, I was at the USOC's training center working with community outreach coordinators for an upcoming "Olympics Day" project. Fairfax County plans to have winning U.S. Olympians speak in Washington this summer.
I am struck by the politics of the Olympics, the renewed jingoism of our country versus the Russians (or Ruskies as that old phrase is again being turned) and the sheer hypocrisy of it all. At the Super Bowl, we had our own ring of steel patrolling the skies -- with helicopter gunships and fighter jet fly-overs. We have our own domestic terrorism threats here in the States.
Today, our President pledged to curtail our own efforts at eavesdropping. French President Francois Hollande asked that private conversations remain just that.
"Mutual trust must be based on... protection of private life and personal data," he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel might take exception to the U.S. calling out Russian proclivity for listening on foreign leaders' conversation; yet our envoy thinks it's just the cost of doing sports business with the Russians.
USA Today columnist and ABC News analyst Christine Brennan is a friend of mine. She has covered 16 Olympic Games and broke the story of cheating in ice skating. Those naughty Russians judges supposedly "working a deal" with the French to deny Canadian skaters gold. Guess what? We Americans charge, some things never change as we see biased judging in world class ice skating again.
She also recently broke the news that Billy Jean King would lead our U.S. delegation and Brian Boitano came out of the closet primarily to help our Olympic delegation stand up for gay rights.
Brennan told me the geopolitics of the Sochi games were among the most controversial and scary since the 1972 Munich Games. Of course, this horrible Olympics was marked by the taking and eventual killing of 11 Israelis by the Palestinians. The terrorists called Black September took over Building 31, demanding release of prisoners held by Israel, and then shot it out with police.
Brennan, like many other journalists, was responding to our U.S. State Department warnings of the potential for kidnapping at these Sochi games. She is safe and so are our journalists, thank goodness.
My thoughts run back to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where Jesse Owens won four gold medals. The track star made a statement for the U.S. and race by dominating the Games. While Hitler was trying to show German resurgence as a Superpower and the superiority of the Aryan nation, Owens was cleaning-up on the medal stand.
The important human rights issue of bringing attention to Russia's discrimination of "open" gay people in society through our own athletic delegation's participation has a certain verisimilitude -- it's our own Berlin statement.
My last thought on Putin: It was great to see him clapping for the Russian ice skating team which won gold over the weekend. And if you caught the cut-away, he also seemed to be clapping and perhaps smiling (let's just call it a smirk for consistency) for our pairs skaters, too.
Let's enjoy the Games and stop playing games!
Mike Smith is a native of Washington, D.C. with his own company. He was most recently an Obama Administration appointee on International. He is also serving as VP of Marketing for an Olympic-style games for law enforcement and fire fighters in Fairfax County in 2015.