The Olympic Cold War: A Critique of the American Critiques of the Sochi Winter Games


I’m disturbed. And you should be too. Why? Well…haven’t you heard that Russia was not ready for the Winter Olympics this year? Nasty water in hotels, serious security concerns, ski slopes that are so steep you could die on them (as opposed to the high-speed, ski racing slopes that are safe?). Everything is a mess. Russia really screwed it up this time. I mean really. It’s like the Cold War all over again. They’ve made a mess of things.

The Cold War technically ended in 1991. Since that point, red fever has died down in the United States and we’re not quite as on edge with Russia as we used to be. Quite. We don’t kill and imprison people just for being communists, most people aren’t stockpiling weapons to prepare for the inevitable Soviet invasion and we as a country and a people, have been able to overlook many (read: some…read: okay, maybe one or two. The rest we’re gonna hang over their heads forever) of Russia’s previous faults. But then the winter games happened. And now we’re right back at it. Though subtly this time. Much more subtly.

We seem to be able to get away with this, in fact it seems almost patriotic to throw a jab Russia’s direction for because they used to be Communists-

(“Uh…pardon me,” says the voice of reason, “but they weren’t ever technically Comminis-“ “QUIET, YOU!!!!!!” says prejudiced based on misconceptions).

Anyways, Communism, as I’m sure you’ve heard is synonymous with evil, atheism and every pungent whereas Democracy rings of Jesus, Church potlucks and being born-again. Now to be fair, Russia isn’t a Communist nation anymore. And of course everyone in America knows that (read: more sarcasm). But they’re still doing it wrong.

How? Why?

Well, because they used to be Communists you see.

I’m being obnoxiously hyperbolic. But there’s a reason.

Because all this has come to roost, I’d offer in the way we have perceived and critiqued Russia’s execution of the Winter Olympics. Since way before the games begun there have been numerous articles about how ill prepared Russia has been for the event. In reading these articles, I couldn’t help but pick up on at least a small dose of American haha-I-told-you-so! glee.

Examine with me, if you will, the Western critiques and reactions to the following 3 Olympic situations:

1) Security Concerns:

I understand that America wants to keep it’s people safe (usually at the expense of other people) and I understand that Russia has recently been a hotbed of terrorist activity and numerous threats have been made for an attack to take place during the Olympics.

First of all…why does this show that Russia wasn’t ready to handle the Olympics? Or, put another way, when has security not been a concern at the Olympic events? Leading up to the 2012 Summer events in London there were warnings of several severe terrorist threats. Terrorism has been a constant threat at every Olympic event (remember 1972? Anyone?) no matter where they’ve taken place.

That being said, Russia hasn’t got the best track record as of late. Okay, got it. So I guess it makes sense that the United States, on numerous occasions, has made public declarations that they would be ready to evacuate Americans in the event of a cataclysmic terrorist event (as for everyone else, good luck!). They even went so far as to position two warships in the Black Sea for the duration of the games.

Uh. Hold up.

Can we please just talk about this? The United States positioned two warships in the Black Sea, you say? Two warships that are capable… not of launching rescue aircraft or any sort of immediate aid into the situation but of flexing their muscles and (help me out here?)? Yea, that just oozes with helpfulness. Because if some terrorist drops a cyanide bomb in the Olympic games in Sochi the USS Lookatme docking out in the bay will really have the ability to fix that right away.

Point being: it’s a show of force. Nothing more and nothing less. And it says something about our government’s National Policy and overall attitude toward Russia about the games. It emulates America leaning over Russia’s shoulder and asking “are you sure you can handle this?” all the while deciding that they can’t.  

Finally (and then I’m done whining about American foreign policy, I promise) when security measures were taken there were numerous complaints about it. Despite the fact that everyone was told, about oh I dunno-years, in advance that upon arrival at the games their phones and computers would be automatically tapped for security purposes, several reporters have still taken the time to complain about this semi-incessantly.

Well duh. C’mon, Russia. You’re doing it wrong. You know you don’t announce that kinda stuff. You just tap phones without telling people. Like in America.

Moving on…

2) The death of a Russian technician:

During the opening ceremonies there was a part when five snowflakes were supposed to open into the five Olympic rings to a chorus of “ohhing”, “ahhing” and “Oh, I get it! Snowflakes. Winter. Cooooool”. One of the rings did not open.

Rings Mishap

Soon thereafter reports began circulating that the technical specialist, a certain T. Borris, Avdeyev, in charge of this fifth ring was found dead in his apartment. Not only that, reports and social media declared, the Russian government immediately set about to cover up what was clearly a murder. Reports quoted government officials as declaring the man accidently tripped into a pile of knives and “accidents tend to happen to people who betray Russia”.

Since that time, the report of the man’s death has been proven to be completely false. It was in fact generated by a hoax begun at the hand of a satirical magazine. That didn’t stop social media from exploding and numerous accredited news reporters following up on the story.

 Question: Why would such a hoax  be considered acceptable and so (frighteningly) believable?

Answer A: Because of incorrect and misconstrued/unfair perceptions we hold concerning Russia.

Answer B: Um duh. Because Russia is the type of fascist regime that would kill people quickly and angrily for embarrassing the country on national television.

…and not like in America of course. Not like in Alabama of course. Not like the case of Cade Foster, the field goal kicker for Alabama who received numerous death threats from his own fans after missed field goals cost the team a crucial game against Auburn this past season.

Yea, not like America at all. We don’t take sports that seriously. That’s Russia. Everyone knows it and they proved as much by circulating such a bogus article.

3) Finally, there’s the stray dogs:

Let me preface this blazing critique by saying the following:

1)   I like dogs. I grew up with dogs. Some of my dearest memories in the world involve playing catch with a golden retriever and trying to teach a chocolate Labrador how to do likewise (FYI didn’t work, they’re called labs, not retrievers). Point being: I like love dogs.

2)   As a Christian, the abuse and damage of creation always concerns me. It should be that way and it is that way.

3)   I have a natural disposition to killing creatures and have always despised any killings deemed “necessary”. For instance, I used to remove my parents mousetraps and ant repellents from the house because I thought it was totally inhumane and cruel. Drove them bonkers. And whenever they outsmarted me and hid one thus succeeding in killing a stray varmint, I cried. But that’s embarrassing, so tell no one.

4)   Did I mention I love dogs?

My point behind this elaborate preface is to not make me seem like a cruel person when I say the following: we have no right to get angry over this.

Or better yet (and the overarching point of this article): America, look in the mirror.

Based on reports of over 1,050 pet shelters across the country, 56% of dogs and puppies entering homeless shelters are killed each year and 71% of cats. Here’s another heart-warming fun fact: it costs the U.S. taxpayer and estimated $2 billion each year to round up, house, kill and dispose of homeless animals.

Granted, Alexei Sorkin, the director of the company in charge of the extermination process in Sochi, went so far as to publicly label these animals “biological trash”. And that’s why this will probably be Snorkin’s first and last interaction with the media. Ever.We here stateside may not have actually verbally articulated that these animals amount to waste and “biological trash” on our priority list as Mr. Snorkin oh-so poetically managed to do (on the national stage much less, have we talked about how stupid that was?) …but do we really treat them as much more than that? Or is our view of the mirror clouded by the giant log in our own eye?

My point all this is not a defense of Russia. I’m really not  Pro-Russia in any way shape or form.

In fact if anything I think I have a problem with a country dishing out over $50 billion for a 3-week event, a financial burden that rides primarily on the backs of their citizens. Where is the American outrage over that? Aren’t we a little concerned with a sporting event taking up so much time, money and having such hyperbolic importance attached to it?

Super Bowl
Oh. Shoot. Yea. Woops.

My point is that even if Russia was completely blameless in their execution of the Olympic games, I’m wagering that there would still be a lot of critique. And Christians should have an issue with that. Even an apathetic bystander in playground antics ought to have a problem with one, freckled face step-child getting teased, mocked and blamed for every single mishap that takes place during recess. We’re all brats; we all deserve some of the blame.

Furthermore, the real issue here is the undertone that runs behind so many of our critiques: “we’re America and we do it better”. The Cold War might be over but there’s still a large amount of prejudice attached to our perception of Russia.  As Christians we need to think, we need to hesitate, about how quickly we join forces in pointing the finger against another government, corporation, people-group, etc. with accusations that are not founded in a firm understanding of our ethical and moral obligations as Christians but instead are based on politically induced biases. Our allegiance to one nation state can easily blind us to the hypocrisies of that country and blur the lines of moral decisions on which we choose to take a stand.

Democracy does not equal Christianity and Communism does not equal evil. Christ is the center of our theological outlook and last time I checked Jesus wasn’t registered with any political party. Any perception of such an attitude within our conduct must be quickly and seriously addressed.

Russia is not a perfect nation, neither are they a nation above rebuke. But the United States is a far cry from perfect as well. And we are not without our biases. Inasmuch, we need to equip ourselves with the knowledge and the self-awareness to clean our own lenses before we look out and judge the rest of the world. This is particularly true as american Christians (note the capitalization). It’s imperatival. It’s essential.

It’s not happening and it needs to change.

In other news, has Russia cheated yet?

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