Red Russian Blood on the White Sochi Snows
If the Russian speed-skating team wins a medal at the Sochi Olympiad in 2014, Italy will bend its neck and be decorated, because the coach of the Russian team is Italian. Russia’s curling medal, if any, will go the team’s Canadian coach, its short-track medal, should there be one, will go to the Korean coach, and any biathalon medal will go to a German.
So even before Russian athletes step into the cold in 2014, they’ll already have admitted they at they can’t win without massive foreign assistance. But the chances that Russia will win in Sochi — or even make the top 10 — are remote indeed.
Not all Russian teams will be led by non-Russians. For instance the men’s hockey team is not — and at the recent world championships that squad was denied any medal and was crushed in two games in the medal rounds by tiny countries whose resources are not remotely comparable to those of Russia.
So it’s clear why Russia has so many foreign coaches.
There’s no mistaking results: Russia placed 11th in the gold medal count at the last Olympiad (in 2010), 6th overall. Many Russians dismissed this horrifying collapse as a glitch, but then at the world championships this year Russia was also 11th on the gold medal tally, and again tied for sixth overall — but its medal count slipped by one in each category. To have a chance of even being in the top three at Sochi, Russia will have to triple its gold medal count from 2010 and more than quadruple it from this year. Nobody thinks that is going to happen, at least not with Russians coaching.
So Russia is desperately throwing money at foreign coaches and hoping they can save Russia from disaster. But even if they somehow manage to do it, and even if the world forgets that they are not Russians, this won’t mean a successful Olympiad for Russia.
News stories are already beginning to percolate about Sochi’s horrific past — more than two years before the games actually unfold. From Estonia to Circassia, the world learns more every day about the revolting Russian atrocities that have played out in the region for centuries, including genocide. Worse than this humiliation for Russia, though, it is what it portends — egregious acts of violence by affected ethnic groups to punish Russia for the indignity it seeks to inflicts upon them by roiling their sacred lands.
And there are other reports, like a recent scathing op-ed in the New York Times condemning the Russian justice system over the Khodorkovsky show trial even as Amnesty International labeled Khodorkovsky a prisoner of conscience, placing him in the same category as Nelson Mandela and Andrei Sakharov. Such attention to Russian failure and outrage will only grow and grow as the games approach. By the time they are staged, this will be the world’s only focus. Russia simply does not have the PR skills or ammunition to overcome this tsunami of bad press.
Russia’s reputation is so ghastly that South Korea, which lost out for the bidding on 2014, is still building its proposed Olympics venues, doing so in the belief that the world will ultimately come to its senses and divest Russia of the games.
We strongly back divestment, although on balance we think our own objectives would be better served by having Russia stage the games, because our fear of the risk to human life in Sochi is so great. But even if there are no terrorism events, the appalling cost in money to a country so impoverished and the chilling cost in PR humiliation to a country already so reviled in the world, mean that the Sochi games are a no-win proposition for Putin’s Russia. Because of that, and because of Putin’s terrifying crackdown on civil society and his wanton aggression against Georgia, we call for the games to be moved to South Korea before it is too late.