Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Olympic post-mortem": Russia's PD disaster?

I never watch Olympics. Never follow the course. Usually, I would check the final medal count - in the very end - just to "be informed." This year was not different in that respect, despite all the fuss people made about Vancouver's importance or lack thereof. I'm totally ignorant. Sorry.

The new thing this time, however, was the fact that I didn't have to search for "the interesting" in the Olympics after the games were over: the news just jumped at me as I opened my YouTube homepage in the morning. "Medvedev: Those Responsible Have to Resign." And well, bouncing off Laura's enthusiasm about PD and Olympics, I couldn't help but think about the public diplomacy loss that Russia suffered thanks to its poor performance in Vancouver. After all, Olympics is one of these occasions where each country gets to shine and show off the best they've got: a perfect chance for bold public diplomacy.

Vancouver for Russia, however, was the complete opposite. It came in 11th (11th!!!) with 3 gold, 5 silver, and 7 bronze medals. Russia? Winter Olympics? Whatever happened to hockey and figure skating?

Certainly, no one can measure in any quantitative terms the damage done to Russia's popularity abroad (I don't even want to start talking about the public opinion implications at home), but I think it is a safe bet to say that it was quite substantial. It's all about expectations after all, expectations that were not met:
- this was Russia's worst performance since 1912 (the worst ever, since it started competing in Winter Olympics in 1912, according to CNN);
- there had been a lot of talk from the sports officials this year, and they promised to return with 30 medals;
- panic about Sochi 2014!

Since it was all over and there was no going back, the first thing Mr. Medvedev did (note: the very next day after the closing in Vancouver), was to hold a staged meeting with the heads of his party Yedinaya Rossiya and give a public lashing for Russia's top Olympics officials. It's a big deal, he and his party had done all they could, and someone's got to bear the blame, right?

Here's the official segment posted on Kremlin's YouTube channel [just love the uber-serious and somber looks on the faces!]:

Yes, he promises to do better next time: the "fat cats" need to resign (oh, and "We will help them, if they don't!"), everyone should work harder, and Sochi 2014 will be Russia's show: in every sense.

Apparently, there has been a public outcry on the Russian Internet sphere on the matter: I would recommend taking a look at just one very telling piece on RIA Novosti that reflects the sentiment, more or less. Interestingly enough, Medvedev's announcement caught lots of attention in the US, receiving wide coverage (to name but a few) in Washington Post, FoxNews, and staying CNN's top international story on the website for the entire day!

RT, on the other hand, had a very short piece on Medvedev's take both online and on TV; instead, they put up a 13-minute "looking to the future" report. (Curious to see if Lavelle dares to take it up as a subject for any of his future CrossTalks...!)


After all, Russia's been pretty busy over the past month in Vancouver, "raising awareness" about its awesome Sochi project. To get a better feel for the Russky Dom and its exclusive programs I would suggest visiting their official websites here and here. Too bad the team itself didn't live up to the expectations...

Now, it's interesting how this story will be played out over the coming days. Although the resignation of the Olympic officials, and perhaps even of the Sports Minister (even if Medvedev did not mention any names, specifically) is a done deal, Russia will need to make up - seriously - for the damage suffered. The Sports Minister has already come forth to respond to the President's fury, blaming the losses on "bad weather, ski wax and unsatisfactory meals, hard snow, managerial problems, [or] a biased attitude of judges and doping control officers." He also said there is nothing to worry about, since "the Vancouver games were only a warm-up ahead of the Sochi Olympics." Too late...

2014 better be good!


P.S. -  Had forgotten to mention that Medvedev did not attend the Official Olympics Closing Ceremony, a trip that was initially planned and publicized. Obviously, it would be humiliating for him to do so.

And here comes Al Jazeera. The shock-waves are spreading fast and wide, apparently...



  1. Interesting sunject and comments...
    Anyway, I do not think it is that simple...
    Sport is sport after all, and there can and do happen all sorts of things.
    Teams can perform better or worse, referees can be biased more thasn usual, etc., etc.
    I agree that sports should not br politicized. In that sense the climate in the Russian society was not "wholesome" to put it mildly. They actually cornered themselves.
    However, I do not see it as an occasion for further viling Russia, aas some people are only too fast and too happy to do these days.
    Yes, perhaps it was the worst Olympics for Russia EVER but at those times it was the Soviet Union. Paradoxically, when Russsia is trying to get back on that track (or some of its actions are construed as such) there is usually a very emotional outcry of anger, fear, criticism, etc.
    On the other hand, when Russia is not resorting to the Soviet methods, which coulod definitely secure her more medals and more "glory", most commentators are happy to make fun of the country. You can't have it both ways.
    I think any country should be rated not by gold medals. It is another very ddangerous and basically inhuman race, all the PC talk to the opposite notwithstanding. Steroids, anabolics, etc., etc. So many obvious deaths, early deaths, broken lives, etc.
    In my view, the Olympicv slogan "faster, higher, etc." sounds very ominous these days. It has turned into its original opposite.
    Finally, the whole raison d'etre of the Olympic, if you care to know, and the main principle was "It is not the victory that matters but partuicipation." It was a manifestation of good will, peaceful competition and cooperation among nations and individuals to promote humaneness of the humanity.
    Sounds too idealistic?

  2. yes, i think it's still very much the Cold War drive that's behind this approach. after all, that's when politicization of Olympics was at its peak...
    again, it's all about perceptions. Russia has been going out of her way to impress her own people, but even more so, the foreigners. Russia (ok, the USSR) had great success in some of the winter sports and now, given the high expectations that failed to be met (miserably), the loss is all the more vivid.
    in any case, i do believe they could have done better. let's see what happens within four years!

  3. Thanks for the shout out. :) I have to take your side on this one. Russia came across as whiny and entitled, not a winning response. That said, I'll be surprised if they don't stage a comeback in 2014.

  4. let's see :) after all, Sochi 2014 is ALL about PD and the show of "greatness"... a come-back of some sorts, if you wish. especially after the 1980 disaster, this will finally be a chance to establish itself as a credible Olympics host... if the world won't have melted by then, that is! :)