The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, proved to be the most expensive ever, exceeding the 50 billion dollar mark(Müller, 2015). The whole bill was paid by taxpayers(Peck, 2015). Much has been discussed, if it was Russia’s plan to improve its public diplomacy, or, was it President Vladimir Putin’s event of bolstering his power.
Russia’s way of doing public diplomacy, influencing the opinions of public, rather than the government, is one that differs substantially from other states (Curtis, 2017). The Olympic Games, is the biggest sporting event in the world, and gives the hosting country a chance, to show its culture and values. The Olympic Games of Sochi, feels, in retrospect, like it has added very low-value, to Russia’s public diplomacy.
Firstly, preceding the Games, Russia introduced a controversial law on LGBT community, which banned any legal rights for the community to hold any kind of rallies in the country (Walker, 2014). Even Sochi mayor said before the event, that homosexuality didn’t exist in Sochi, and there was no gay people in the city (BBC, 2014). So, the games already started off with an issue over human rights. Three days after the Games, Russia invaded Crimea, in Ukraine, and left the people thinking if the Olympics were just used as a smoke cover for all these actions. Putin had also attacked Georgia, during 2008 Beijing Olympics, which clearly shows, that Putin has used Olympic Games, as a chance to go through with his provocative policies.
Also, when thinking of Russia’s aim to influence foreign public, we need to think of the doping scandals over Russian athletes. Sport has always been kept in high esteem in Russia, and its athletes winning medals has been Russia’s way of showing their soft power. But, in recent years they have been involved in a massive doping scandal that was funded by the Russian state (Standish, 2016). After coming fourth in the medal table in London, and first in Sochi, significant number of Russian athletes have been caught with doping. The former sports minister, Vitali Mutko, now Putin’s deputy Prime Minister, denied any involvement, and a week after the Sochi Games, he got praised by Putin, who thanked him for his significant contributions to Russia’s athletic achievements (Standish, 2016). This scandal led to Russian track and field team being banned from Rio de Janeiro Olympics. A state-sponsored doping system, to win medals, no matter what, does not look as good public diplomacy, and has worsened people’s belief around the world over Russia’s governance.
Russia similarly gained the right to host 2018 football World Cup in a very controversial manner. Mutko, was the organiser for the bid, which engulfed into a huge corruption probe. Namely, Russia has been accused, in getting the right to host the event, due to bribes given to then FIFA President Sepp Blatter. Blatter got suspended over the allegations and later came out saying, that the decision on the host, had been done already before voting (Standish, 2016). Putin and Mutko, though, have claimed, that the state-funded doping and World Cup scandal, have been Western conspiracy theories against Russia (Standish, 2016). Russia sees hosting these events as a chance to show the world their power and capability. Even though its economy is doing terribly in a time when energy prices are low and sanctions from the West are hindering its businesses.
In recent years, we have seen Russia continuing destabilising Ukraine, as well as involving in Syrian civil war. Putin has been mobilising his troops for training and in wars in mentioned countries. Putin’s plans can be hard to predict. Whilst he is bringing these massive sporting events to Russia, he is trying to show the world that they can organise them successfully. From another angle, it is not only the world he likes to prove his power to. It is also the people in Russia, who he wants to show to, that he is the one who brings these massive events to them. There are wide-range corruption problems in Russia, and organising events like Sochi Olympics and the World Cup, will take people’s concentration away from any controversial domestic issues, and keep Putin bolstered on his post. But, 3 years after the Sochi Games, we hardly remember it taking place, not even mentioning it being a successful public diplomacy act. Who should remember, are the taxpayers who covered the huge bill for the event, which has been tainted by a variety of Russia’s actions. Matters have been made even worse, because Sochi today is completely abandoned and excluding couple of events a year, the place looks like a ghost town. As far as Russia’s public diplomacy goes, bring on the World Cup.
The Economist cover this week has a hilariously tragic cover, with President Vladimir Putin as a figure skater who has just dropped his partner — his country — but still preens for the crowd(The Economist, 2014).
1) BBC, published in 2014, „Sochi 2014: no gay people in city, says mayor“, available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25675957 (Accessed: 6th of May, 2017)
2) Curtis S., 2017, Public Diplomacy, London
3) The Economist, published in 2014, „The Triumph of Vladimir Putin“, available at http://www.economist.com/printedition/2014-02-01 (Accessed 6th of May, 2017)
4) Müller M., published in 2015, „After Sochi 2014: Costs and impacts of Russia’s Olympic Games“, available at http://www.playthegame.org/news/comments/2015/018_after-sochi-2014-costs-and-impacts-of-russias-olympic-games/ (Accessed: 6th of May,2017)
5) Peck T., published in 2015, „2022 Winter Olympics: Beijing hot favourite Games despite complete lack of snow“, available at http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/olympics/2022-winter-olympics-beijing-hot-favourite-games-despite-complete-lack-of-snow-10429208.html (Accessed: 6th of May, 2017)
6) Standish R., published in 2016, „What Russia’s Ministry of Doping Tells Us About Putin“, available at http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/08/04/what-russias-ministry-of-doping-tells-us-about-putin-mutko-olympics-fifa-sochi-rio/ (Accessed: 6th of May, 2017)
7) Walker S., published in 2014, „Vladimir Putin: gay people at Winter Olympics must ’leave children lone’“, available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/17/vladimir-putin-gay-winter-olympics-children (Accessed: 6th of May, 2017)