Despite the platitudes voiced by Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics were the dawn of a “more open, more inclusive Russia,” it appears that in the short term at least, the Games’ gargantuan $51 billion budget was money well spent by an anything-but-open, anything-but-inclusive government of President Vladimir Putin.
In the long term, of course, it’s entirely possible that the Sochi Games will become the same sort of albatross around taxpayers’ neck that the 1976 Summer Games were for Montrealers. By the time that becomes apparent, though, it’s likely that Putin will have mercifully faded into the history books and the children of this month’s Russian medal winners will be among those left holding the bag.
Inside the Olympic bubble, of course, the Games were a rousing success for many — including Canadians, who proved that when it comes to games played with a biscuit or a loaf of heavy bread sliding around on the ice, nobody does it better. If anything, Sunday’s 3-0, gold-medal-clinching men’s hockey win over Sweden was the anti-climax to the women’s team’s dramatic, come-from-behind clincher over the U.S. and even to the men’s semifinal triumph over our southern neighbours — who not only failed to medal but were symbolically saddled with the erstwhile Justin Bieber (thanks to the Chicago trucking company whose billboard provided the Games’ heartiest laugh).
Russia’s athletes, of course, also deserve our most sincere congratulations on having — despite the sudden injury and retirement of iconic figure skater Evgeni Plushenko and their team’s dismal showing in men’s hockey — persevered and won the overall medal count. Perseverance, it seems, is one of the Russians’ defining traits and one that will undoubtedly be needed in the years ahead.
Sadly, Putin — despite his government’s history of brutally intimidating and silencing critics, the latest example of which was the on-camera whipping of members of the dissident girl band Pussy Riot — probably came out of these Games smelling like a rose. Even the pre-Games publicity surrounding the government’s anti-gay “propaganda” law appears have been swept under the rug for the 17 days of the Games.
But maybe Bach was right: Maybe this was the dawn of a new, more inclusive Russia. It’s possible — but we’d say, highly unlikely.
— David Burke