The Sochi Blues

With the Winter Olympics starting this weekend get ready for some extended couch potato time. NBC will overwhelm viewers with not just the individual sporting events, but every nugget of background information about the athletes, coaches, parents, and of course the Russians who are hosting this extravaganza.

There have been miles and miles of analysis and critiques of the Russian Winter Olympics concentrating on huge cost overruns, corruption, callous displacement of people, anti-gay comments, restrictions on protests and of course terrorist threats. There is no need to add to this endless stream of punditry, except to remind the viewers sitting on their couches that they are watching a major sporting event from the former Communist Soviet Union, now mistakenly called the Russian Republic. What that means is that despite the democratic sounding national title it is difficult to remove the culture of communism from the Olympics. It may be a bit of an exaggeration but ” Once a Commie, always a Commie.”

Communism in the Soviet Union was marked by cruel rulers ( now Vladimir Putin), inefficient state enterprises that turned out junk products ( the unimaginative Olympic venues and shoddy workmanship in the hotels), phony concern for the workers ( cronyism, no-bid contracts, despoilment of private land), and brutish behavior ( surly guards, stubborn bureaucrats, and an ingrained fear of foreigners). So even though there are pictures of a smiling Putin, shiny buildings, and welcome signs everywhere, the whole enterprise is a facade hiding the fact that not much has changed in Russia since the end of Communism.

From an American perspective it would be great if we captured a good portion of the gold while the Russians suffered embarrassing defeats. This is not only patriotism rising to the forefront but a condemnation of an Olympics hosted by a country that does not represent that values of the Olympics – sportsmanship, honesty, team spirit, and goodwill. Russia is one of those second tier countries that is on the ” make” and wants to send a message to the world that it is back from the embarrassment of communism’s fall. But it is not really back, it is pretty much the same old Soviet Union now called Russia.

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