Politics and sport threaten Sochi success

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Politics and sport threaten Sochi success

Message  Vivre Enrussie le Jeu 27 Mai 2010 - 17:51

26/05/2010 - http://www.mn.ru/politics/20100526/187843957.html

Sochi’s Winter Olympics could be tarnished by an international boycott, according to US diplomat Kurt Volker.

The former American ambassador to NATO said that the threat of a boycott could put pressure on the Kremlin over Abkhazia, South Ossetia and other issues in the Trans-Caucasus region which lies to the east of the Black Sea resort.
In a comment piece in Tuesday’s Washington Post, Volker argued: “Attending the 2014 Olympics under today's circumstances would make all of us complicit in cementing in practice Russia's changing European borders by force, even if we reject those changes in principle.”
Taken to extremes, this could see a repeat of the politically charged Olympics of 1980 and 1984, where Moscow and Los Angeles suffered tit-for-tat boycotts as the world’s playing fields became a stand-in for Cold War battlegrounds.
And in the short term, the threat of a boycott could be damaging for Russia’s bid to host the football World Cup in 2018 or 2022 – which is due to be decided in December, with the USA among the rival bidders.
Volker stopped short of calling for an "unpalatable" boycott at this stage - four years before the games - and urged working in partnership with Russia to ensure this didn't become necessary.

Why boycott Sochi?

Sochi’s location on the shores of the Black Sea and close to the border with the breakaway republic of Abkhazia makes it a particularly controversial destination.
Russia is expected to invite the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the games as part of its recognition of the independence of these two territories as they look to break away from Georgia.
But that is impossible for NATO to accept, since they have refused to recognise the pair’s declarations of independence in the wake of the 2008 conflict.
Volker warned: “By 2014, we could see housing for tourists, regular border crossings between Russia and Abkhazia without a hint of Georgian sovereignty, high-visibility symbols of Abkhaz ‘statehood’ such as flags and travel documents, and the presence of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian ‘presidents’ at Olympic ceremonies - alongside US and European leaders.”

NHL row

At the same time, the flagship event of the winter games could be hampered by sporting politics, rather than international diplomacy.
The hockey tournament – already being billed as a showdown between the hosts and this year’s winners Canada – could be stripped of its NHL stars unless the North American league can reach an agreement about releasing its top players.
As Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said prior to the Vancouver games: “The owners have a lot of appetite to stop [letting players go to the Olympics]. We’ve done it three times; the only time we got any kind of bang out of it was in Salt Lake in 2002.
“Nagano, Turin, we didn't get anything out of that. So there's a lot of sentiment that Vancouver should be the last Olympics that the players play.”

Russian reaction
In Gzt.ru Russian winter sports bosses were keen to downplay the prospect of a boycott. Valery Silakov of the Sled Sports Federation dismissed Volker’s comments as “rumours”, while Curling Federation president Olga Andrianova said any action would “only worsen relations”.
But some Russian contestants were less concerned. Snowboarder Svetlana Boldykova fell some way short of the Olympic ideal when she concluded: “In any case we athletes are not upset. For us, the less competition the better.”


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