An Olympic gold medal was always one of my fantasies. Standing up there, while our majestic national anthem is played – what a supreme moment! But, at 65, that dream has kind of faded. Not that I was athletic anyway. Not that I could even do, say, a single chin-up in high school.
But I will hereby award an Olympic gold medal: to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) itself, for the sprint to the bottom of disgrace in giving the 2014 winter games to Sochi in Russia. That deserves a special prize.
Sochi might seem a bizarre locale for winter games: a beach resort on the Black Sea, whose climate The Economist labels “subtropical,” noting it’s “one of the very few places in Russia where snow is scarce.” So the organizers have been hoarding last year’s snow. Also, Sochi is next door to still simmering violent conflicts in the North Caucasus.
But never mind such quibbles. Vladimir Putin wanted this, and so it was bestowed on him by the IOC as a reward for . . . what? His splendid record on human rights and international cooperation? Indeed, Putin wanted these games as a form of “regime laundering,” to give his murderous gangster mafia a veneer of international legitimacy; so he could puff out his over-exposed chest and preen in the Olympics’ reflected glory.
But that wasn’t all. As if to demonstrate why the games should never have been awarded to Russia, their cost is now estimated at $50 billion, the highest ever. The original estimate was only $12 billion. Why the huge overrun? In a word, corruption.
Putin wanted these games not only for international legitimacy but to make a mockery of that very legitimacy by using the games to loot the nation’s coffers, for the benefit of the crony capitalists who feed off him and prop him up (see my past post on The Dictator’s Handbook). The games are mostly paid for by the Russian government, with the money flowing to a coterie of big, politically connected insider contractors. So, inflating the bill from $12 to $50 billion? No problem. Who’s gonna complain? Another Magnitsky? (Murdered, to shut him up.)
Russia exemplifies those states where government, instead of building national prosperity, is a vehicle for extracting wealth to benefit a narrow elite. There’s no democratic accountability to stop them. Russians mostly bend over for this, thinking they’re not too bad off. They fail to realize not only how much is stolen from them, but how much more prosperous a rule-of-law economy would make them.
Regime critic Alexei Navalny (see my past post) was recently convicted and sentenced to five years in a labor camp on obviously phony charges. At his “trial” his defense was not allowed to call any witnesses, nor even to cross-examine prosecution witnesses. That’s why I put “trial” in quotes. At protest demonstrations, random participants have been arrested and charged with “violence against police,” carrying heavy prison terms. Regimes like this talk a lot about obedience to law. But instead of rule of law – which means means applying laws impartially – it’s really rule by law, which is just a tool for a ruling group to repress and exploit everyone else.
To stick yet another thumb in the eye of the IOC and the world community, Russia recently passed a law making it basically illegal for gays to come out of the closet.
The IOC is now considering a 2020 site selection. Turkey is in the running; will the IOC learn its lesson? See my post about recent developments in Turkey.
And for more Sochi details, check out The Economist’s report. It concludes by quoting – without further comment – Russia’s original bid for the games: it claims to provide “a stable political and economic environment in order to improve and enhance quality of life. The government is based on free and open elections, freedom of expression and a constitutionally guaranteed balance of power.”
Do they give an Olympic medal for bullshit?