For centuries, friendship, respect and excellence have endured as the three core values of the Olympics movement. This week, as the Winter Olympics unfold in Sochi, Russia, those values face high — but not insurmountable — hurdles.
According to The Olympic Museum, those values form the very foundation upon which the Games unite sport, culture and education for the betterment of human beings and world harmony. Advancing those goals clearly remains paramount for this year’s Games, which feature 98 events with 2,800 athletes from 88 nations competing in 15 winter-sport disciplines.
Unfortunately, in Sochi, a series of controversial distractions and well-founded fears leading up to the 22nd Winter Games has deflated the traditionally robust Olympian spirit and has devalued those core principles.
First, consider friendship. The host country’s relationship with the United States and much of the Western world remains strained at best. The U.S. has long decried Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal battle with Muslim separatists in nearby Chechnya and Dagestan, his steadfast support for Iran’s potentially menacing nuclear program and his unwavering backing of Syria’s tyrannical leader Bashar al-Assad.
In Sochi, many are questioning the lack of cooperation the Russians have afforded U.S. intelligence officers, most notably by withholding information about terrorist threats to Olympic venues. “We aren’t getting the kind of cooperation that we’d like from the Russians in terms of their internal threats,” Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”
RESPECT IN SHORT SUPPLY
How about respect? Many in the United States, including some participating athletes, assail the Russian government’s harsh laws targeting homosexuals that have resulted in an escalation of persecution and physical attacks on gay Russians. Others point to the rounding up and shooting of stray dogs to keep them away from pristine Olympics venues. Be it human rights or animal rights, the host nation garners precious little trademark Olympian respect
Finally, consider that third Olympics value: excellence. Despite spending a mammoth $51 billion on Olympics venues, excellence — or even mediocrity — in some Olympics domains remains in embarrassingly short supply. Many athletes, journalists and visitors arrived at partially constructed hotels with toxic water, unflushable toilets, missing doors, exposed electrical outlets and other horrors. The opening ceremonies were marred by technical difficulties that included five snowflakes that created only four of the five hallowed intersecting Olympic rings.
That incident perhaps best symbolizes some of the proud Olympian spirit that has disappeared from this year’s Games, but it does not mean the 22nd Winter Olympics cannot be made whole again.
STRONG TV VIEWERSHIP
There are, after all, reasons for optimism. Thus far, the Games have played out without terrorism. And despite the many sideshow distractions, the eyes of America remain firmly planted on the exciting sporting events on the ice, in the snow and inside the hockey arenas.
The proof is in the TV ratings. NBC’s coverage of the Games is winning the gold medal for U.S. viewership, outdistancing the combined totals of CBS, ABC and Fox by 35 percent. In the Mahoning Valley, viewers can get day and night coverage from NBC affiliate and Vindicator broadcast partner 21 WFMJ-TV.
As the Games play out over the next 10 days, we’re hoping that the focus of the world sharpens even more clearly and fully on the events’ strong athleticism, shared international experience and healthy competitive spirit. In so doing, the cherished Olympian values of friendship, respect and excellence can be restored.