Saturday, February 08, 2014

Пусть начнутся игры

The torch has been lit in Sochi, kicking off another sixteen days of competition and nationalistic pride.  Athletes are realizing their dreams and are challenged to transcend what was assumed impossible, give their all, and rise above the rest.  It is a sad consequence of our current geopolitical state that they also must overcome living conditions less comfortable then they may be accustomed, threats of terrorist violence, and conflicting feelings on whether they should be participating.

After studying Russian language and visiting almost six years ago, I have an appreciation for their contributions to humanity's collective culture.  Besides the literature and music, one can draw much inspiration for the sheer grit and strong will it must have taken to survive all-out siege during World War II. Would I return right now?  Nope.  Putin has not warmed to me in his many years of influence or direct rule over the nation, and it baffles me why he would select a city better suited as a summer resort for a winter games site.  It seems that the billions spent manufacturing and storing snow would have been better spent improving the living conditions for the surrounding areas.  Russia was not the most traveler-friendly place on my original trip, and the crackdowns on personal freedoms seem to have made the country less welcoming.  This goes beyond the anti-homosexual propaganda law and the arrests of protestors.  Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who wrote a phenomenal editorial during his ten-year prison sentence, plainly stated that Russian society will stagnate and likely die if it fails to innovate and evolve with modern times.  Part of evolving is allowing freedom of thinking, even if the opinions are not always aligned.  Groupthink is a very dangerous and often fatal condition.

Does this mean we should disengage and not participate in the Games?  Hardly.  It's understandable not to outlay the cash for a visa, plane ticket, accommodations and sporting events.  However, I still want to watch.  The athletes representing my home as well as many other countries deserve the opportunity to set politics aside and go for gold.  We should not punish individuals for the sins of governmental bodies.  Moreover, the strategy of many nations to subtly protest - the US cadre of openly gay athletes and sports commentators, Alexei Sobelev's Pussy Riot-inspired snowboard deck, Greek athletes wearing gloves with rainbow fingers during the opening ceremony - can keep the conversation going and have more of an impact than turning off the television set.   It is my sincere hope that the gathering of people from across the globe in the spirit of sportsmanship and goodwill may nudge the Russian Federation and perhaps other nations towards more openness, tolerance for diversity, and peace.