The start of the Olympic season is typically met with grandeur and excitement; a sense of nationalism rushes through countries around the world, and they unite together in a ceremony of excellence.
Sochi 2014, though, has been marred by contentious issues that range from social to political to fundamental. Every corner turned brings a new problem, be it gay rights, Putin’s controversial leadership (which is also linked to the country’s stance on gay rights), the slopestyle snowboarding course or unsafe water.
No matter the issue, one thing is clear: Russia is not ready to host the Olympic Games.
The Games began on Friday morning with a beautiful opening ceremony that took viewers on a trip through Russia’s history, but a spectacle of that magnitude should not detract from the real issues that are at hand. Considering first the Olympic events, it is an atrocity that Shaun White had to drop out of an event because of safety concerns, even after the track was altered. He and other athletes have already been injured on a clearly dangerous course. The world should not have to witness the death of another Olympian like that of Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luger who died in a test run in 2010. Safety should be the first priority.
But more than anything, the Olympics should be used as a time to employ a form of diplomacy and allow for change, growth and development in Russian society. That is not to say that American ideologies should be forced onto the Russians, which is often the case with American diplomacy.
The Olympics have put a spotlight on Russian politics and brought forth issues that are of importance to the Russians. Pussy Riot would not be such a hot topic of conversation right now without the Olympics, but the group has put on an international stage the problems that are important to them and to other Russian citizens. Most notably, the issue of gay rights has been a topic of international discussion since the announcement of Sochi as the Olympic host in 2007. It has become such a controversy that joke articles have been posted about China being banned from the Olympics after their athletes “tested positive for homosexuality,” which harkens back to a time when fake scientific evidence was published about other races, like in Nazi Germany.
Many around the world are unhappy with the social and political climate in Russia, leading to a toothpaste bomb scare and other potential dangers. The Olympics have always brought forth world issues; like when in 1972, the Israeli team was held hostage and killed by Palestinian group Black September; they were asking for the return of prisoners around the world. Similarly, a Ukranian man last week attempted to hijack a plane to Sochi in return for Ukranian prisoners.
With all these safety concerns, the focus should be on diplomacy and creating a better situation for the Russian citizens. From the riots and the civil unrest across the country, it is obvious that reform is needed. But it should be a reform within Russia’s parameters, not American. The Olympics are the perfect venue for such a diplomatic approach.