When I see people talk about “the spirit of the Olympics,” and how the entire point of the Olympic Games is for enemies to put down their swords for two weeks and join together in sport, I have to chuckle.
Why? Because the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia may be the first Olympic Games in recent memory – if not all history – where the host country has threatened to arrest the athletes.
Increasing worldwide concern about Russia’s growing crackdown on its gay and trans citizens, and now its promise to arrest Olympic athletes, visitors and media who attend the Sochi games, isn’t about politics, it’s about safety. The “spirit of the Olympics” isn’t to risk your life for a medal.
In fact, the spirit of the Olympics is about quite the opposite of threatening the athletes, or anyone else. You were kicked out of the Ancient Olympics if you violated the truce, which happened once to Sparta:
During the Olympic Games, a truce, or ekecheiria was observed. Three runners, known as spondophoroi were sent from Elis to the participant cities at each set of games to announce the beginning of the truce. During this period, armies were forbidden from entering Olympia, wars were suspended, and legal disputes and the use of the death penalty were forbidden. The truce was primarily designed to allow athletes and visitors to travel safely to the games and was, for the most part, observed. Thucydides wrote of a situation when the Spartans were forbidden from attending the games, and the violators of the truce were fined 2,000 minae for assaulting the city of Lepreum during the period of the ekecheiria. The Spartans disputed the fine and claimed that the truce had not yet taken hold.
There are a number of valid reasons to no longer host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia, and to move them, say, to the city of Vancouver for February of 2015 (to give Vancouver time to prepare). But paramount among those reasons is concern for the safety of the athletes.
Russia’s threat to jail Olympic athletes, visitors and media is unprecedented in the history of the Olympics.
The Soviets didn’t threaten to jail the athletes during the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Even Hitler didn’t go that far when the Nazis hosted the Berlin Olympics in 1936.
The very fact that Russia dawdled for three weeks, when asked by the International Olympic Committee for assurances as to the safety of the athletes attending the 2014 Winter Olympics, should have given the world pause.
But for Russia to now say “game on,” and recommit to throwing Olympic athletes, guests and media in the gulag, for the supposed protection of Russia’s “children,” is beyond the Olympic pale.
Russia can no longer be trusted to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. The International Olympic Committee should stop throwing good money after bad and move the venue now, while it still can.
Russia can talk all it wants about the safety of the children. The world should be worried about the safety of its athletes.