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STILL OUT ON A LIMB

The Worst of the Worst

February 13, 2014

Tags: Sochi Olympics

Last week NBC news characterized the Sochi Olympics as an inspirational event that promoted healthy competition, international fellowship and good will. Not surprising, given that NBC owns the television rights to broadcast the Olympics, but for me it was the final straw. Even though I’ve enjoyed watching previous winter games, I resolved to boycott the Sochi Olympics. Here’s why:

1. Environmental disaster. Sochi was, until the Olympic steamroller came to town, one of Russia’s most picturesque areas. It is near Russia’s southernmost point; a semi-tropical set of beach resorts on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, with remarkably diverse flora and fauna, and the western terminus of the towering snow-covered Caucasus Mountains as a backdrop. It has been transformed at breakneck speed into a mass of hotels, Olympic villages, plazas, indoor and outdoor stadiums and ski-slopes, all connected by a highway system gouged out of the landscape. The group Environmental Reports on North Caucasus reports this has resulted in 1500 unsanctioned waste dumps in the area. In addition, because almost everyone attending flew there, each one of the tens of thousands arriving in Sochi is responsible for several additional tons of CO2 spewed into our atmosphere. The carbon footprint of this event is calamitous.

2. Human rights outrage. There has been a lot of publicity about how Russia has created a 1500 mile long series of check points around the Olympics and has tightened security throughout the region. Security measures include the monitoring of every electronic transmission and patrols of machine-gun touting Cossacks with the authority to stop and question anyone. I’m sure that members of every disfavored ethnic or religious group in the region have gotten a bellyful of this open air Gulag. And then, of course, there is the growing Putin-lead national past-time of gay-bashing.

3. Monumental corruption. Putin’s government has poured more than 50 billion dollars of public money into these Olympics. That’s more than the total spent on all other winter Olympics combined. Russia’s 1% has gobbled up this money in a flood of bribery and shoddy construction that has provided some great comic relief visuals on the internet. Outside of Russia, the 17 members of the International Olympic Organizing Committee (IOC) in charge of these games is a rogues’ gallery whose financial shenanigans and fascist-like political manipulations could fill a book.

4. Personal exploitation. The athletes are not exempt from this cesspool. The government-sponsored training methods of many countries designed to produce record performances by very youthful competitors is, to put it bluntly, child abuse. American Olympic hopefuls don’t have government support. Instead most of them obtain corporate sponsorship and thus, in a parody of amateurism, must dance to their puppeteer’s tune. Here’s how one former competitor described it: “The Olympic rings themselves have been copyrighted by the IOC, reserved exclusively for use by corporate sponsors. As those who generate super profits for sponsors, today’s Olympic athletes are workers. Like any other workers, athletes are limited by their economic vulnerability – in this case control by the sporting hierarchy.”

5. Elitism. Finally, it is an attraction that only those who can afford to shell out $20-25,000/person can attend. And to make sure those attending weren’t bothered by stray dogs, hundreds of the inconvenient animals were slaughtered before any guests arrived. Thus, it is an event paid for with public funds, causing massive environmental damage, vast human suffering and animal abuse, swimming in corruption, presented on site primarily to the wealthy, and generating super profits for the world’s giant corporations. What’s to like?

Calling this multifaceted orgy of degradation a testament to the highest human aspirations is beyond ironic. The least I can do, by boycotting it, is acknowledge all those who have suffered from this worst Olympics since the Nazi-orchestrated Berlin horror of 1936.

Selected Works

Memoir
"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
Publisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
–Joyce Carol Oates

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