The 2014 Winter Olympics, dubbed by some as “Putin’s Games,” were intended to showcase the new Russia to the world.
The Sochi Olympics have been plagued by questions from the start. Gay rights, press rights, rights of protest — not to mention will there even be enough hotel rooms? Well, the games officially began Thursday, and the Opening Ceremony starts at 20:14 Friday in Sochi, 11 a.m. on the US east coast.
Why was Sochi, a warm, summer seaside resort on the Black Sea with little existing infrastructure or snow chosen? At $51 billion, it’s the most expensive winter games in history, though there's been some criticism of using that figure. Reports of unfinished hotel rooms, the culling of stray dogs and undrinkable water have been common, further supporting the view that much of the $51 billion was spent not on construction and infrastructure, but disappeared in bribes and kickbacks to Russian officials.
Edward Lozansky, founder and President of the American University in Moscow, however, thinks the criticisms and dismissive comments are overblown. He says the western media has launched a “vicious, often hypocritical and extremely biased campaign against Sochi and Russia in general.” Specifically, he says the media is too focused on the treatment of gay people and the threat of terrorism.
“This is a strange phenomenon when we have different people pushing negative Sochi stories: the neo-cons on the right and the liberal media on the left," he says, "one group worried about terrorists and the other about LGBT issues.
“I don’t recall another Olympics where the media is digging so much for horror stories. 99 percent of the stories out of Sochi have been horror stories and it reminded me of Soviet style media,” he adds.
Lozansky sees the $51 billion as a necessary, “huge investment for the people to create jobs and employment” in a much-needed region. He adds that only a strong economy can bring opportunity, rather than strife, to the troubled southern part of Russia.
Some of his criticism is directed specifically at the Washington Post, which he says “has been overflowing in anti-Sochi venom in its coverage of the Olympics” and suggests, according to Lozansky, that “the IOC made a gross mistake in awarding the games to Russia.” He says the Post essentially blames the IOC if any terror attack were to happen. Should we, under threat of Islamic terrorism, “cancel all athletic and cultural events?” he asks.
As the global spotlight shines on Russia for the next two weeks, Lozansky would have like to see a show of solidarity with the Russian people. “The Olympics are an important event diplomatically, an opportunity for people to talk on the sidelines and provide moral support by attending the games," he says. It's important, he says, if the West actually wants to help Russia move to a more open, inclusive society.
Rebuffing Putin’s Russia will “only cause Russia to look further eastwards rather than embrace the west,” Lozansky says. “I would much rather see Russia in the American tent than in the China tent."