08 February 2014

My Thoughts On Sochi 2014

With the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games beginning yesterday, my Facebook feed has been filled with chatter about so many things – human rights issues, animal rights issues, deplorable conditions for the delegates. 

And from my previous Vancouver 2010 colleagues there are nostalgic posts reminiscing about our time when the world shone its light on us, posts of pride for people we know working or volunteering with Sochi, and pride of Canadian athletes. 
It's a real mixed bag of emotions and I feel compelled to share my thoughts. And being 4 years away from my Olympic experience, I finally feel free to say what I really feel...

I take issue with 2 organizations related to Sochi 2014:

  • The International Olympic Committee (IOC)
  • The Russian Government

The terrible acts of cruelty and the demonstration of ignorance on Putin's part do not reflect the actual people of Russia. Nor do they reflect the Sochi Organizing committee. 

Though the IOC claims to be a not-for-profit, it is clear that its operations are run more like an enterprise level corporation. And according to Business Insider:  
"The IOC enjoys many benefits of being located in Switzerland, including non-disclosure of financial transactions and significant tax exemption for non-profits... The 115-member IOC "membership" is composed of royalty, Olympic athletes, and organizational leaders. Most of them are wealthy, including many corporate executives. President Jacques Rogge is a former chairman of the Belgium Olympic Council, an Olympic sailor, and an honorary count" (Read more: http://ow.ly/tpVTH). 
When I worked for the Olympic Games in Vancouver, I enjoyed the majority of the people I worked with, and revelled in the cultural and sporting celebrations. It was a truly amazing experience.
The cultural and sporting celebrations are amazing and the overall Olympic movement is a beautiful idea. The IOC and the Russian Government fail at living up to the values outlined in the movement and the Olympic Charter

The IOC has proven itself to be more concerned with money than with the movement and charter on which it was founded.
Here are a few reasons why I say this:

  • China and Russia were granted the Games even though they have a history of human rights violations before and during the bid process. And of course, throughout planning their respective Games.
  • There are still sports that the IOC will not allow women participants – Ski Jumping, for example which has only been added for Sochi 2014. One of the reasons given by was "As recently as 2005, Gian Franco Kasper, then president of the International Ski Federation said the sport "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view" (http://www.torontosun.com/2014/02/07/womens-ski-jumping-makes-debut-at-sochi-olympics).
  • Delegates from the IOC demonstrated blatant sexist behaviour. While working for VANOC (the organizing committee for Vancouver 2010), our staff made up of about 400 people at the time with half of them being women, were addressed at an all staff meeting with many comments like this: "great to see so many beautiful ladies working here. The problem with ladies in sport is that they get pregnant. Like my colleague who couldn't be here because she is due soon." Given that the IOC were our bosses, and were based in Switzerland, there was nothing we could do about this sexist behaviour. 
Getting into the Olympic spirit, and supporting athletes and artists performing at the Games are all still important for spreading joy and love. Whether you watch the broadcasts or not is probably not going to make a big difference to these issues. 

So what do we do about it? 

  • Tell the IOC you want them to live up to their own charter – social media, petitions, letters, phone calls etc.
  • Don't buy tickets to the games. Don't buy licensed merchandise. 
  • Don't buy the products being sold by major sponsors. 
  • Tell major sponsors you are not buying their products during the Games – social media, petitions, letters, phone calls etc.
  • Support Russians who want new leadership.
  • Keep discussing issues of human rights (the right to be any colour of the rainbow) and animal rights.
So those are my opinions after being an insider for awhile – what are yours?

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