The Olympic flame represents the enduring spirit of competition and goodwill embodied by the Olympic Games. It burns continuously for months as it is relayed to the host city, where it lasts for the entirety of the Games. The games will take place from Thursday until the closing ceremonies Feb. 23.
And yet, with time running out until Friday’s opening ceremony of the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, it would come as no surprise if the Olympic flame simply flickered out.
In fact, it already has. The Independent reported the flame was extinguished by a strong gust of wind at the Kremlin in the heart of Moscow back in October. It was apparently promptly rekindled with a security officer’s cigarette lighter.
For several reasons, these Olympics inspire a greater sense of uneasiness than excitement.
The first red flag appeared last summer, when Russia enacted a law prohibiting the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” According to CBS News, the law carries a fine of “up to 5,000 rubles ($156)” for any individual who openly endorses gay rights, and up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) for media organizations guilty of the same “crime.”
When asked about the status of homosexuals during an interview with the BBC, Sochi mayor Anatoly Pakhomov flatly responded, “We do not have them in our town.”
Detestable as they are, Russia’s anti-gay policies are just one facet of the Olympic dilemma at hand.
Sochi lies just a few hundred miles east of Chechnya — a notorious hub for terrorist activity. The Washington Post recently reported that two threats have been made against the Winter Olympics by Chechen terrorists in the past seven months alone.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised that the so-called “ring of steel” around Sochi — some 100,000 security personnel equipped with military helicopters, drones and advanced missile systems — will prevent any such attack from occurring. Regardless, the Pentagon has deemed it necessary to place two naval ships on standby in the Black Sea.
If the human rights issues and terror threats are insufficient causes for unease, a number of recent reports alleging widespread corruption surrounding the games very well could be.
CBS News’ Mark Phillips reported Friday that the Sochi Olympics are the most expensive games ever, at a total cost of $50 billion — more than five times the cost of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Valery Morozov, an Olympic contractor who recently fled to England for fear of his personal safety, claimed the unusually large expenses are a result of payoffs and kickbacks for Russian officials which he refused to participate in. He cited as an example the Bolshoy Ice Dome, a hockey venue that cost about $300 million, which is more than two-and-a-half times its estimated cost of construction.
And so, plagued by questions about human rights abuses, threats of terrorist activity and allegations of corruption, the Sochi Olympics seem predestined for disappointment — if not outright disaster.
Some have called for a boycott, which is exactly what occurred at the 1980 Summer Olympics — hosted by the Soviet Union. A full-scale boycott isn’t likely, but it is expected that a large number of people worldwide will abstain from watching the Olympics.
Those who do tune in anytime between Friday and Feb. 23 will undoubtedly be holding their collective breath, for all the wrong reasons.