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Friday, October 28, 2016

SOCHI, Russia — Athletes and politics were on parade Friday at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium featured fireworks, a colorful theatrical presentation of Russian history and an impressive collection of political star power on hand to bear witness to the start of the sports festival that Russian President Vladimir Putin aggressively lobbied for and lavishly built.

The controversy over Russia’s anti-propaganda law –widely perceived as a hostile discriminatory measure aimed at the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; charges of labor abuses and corruption in building the games’ facilities; and the potential threat of terrorism didn’t deter some world leaders from coming to cheer their country’s Olympic teams as they marched in the parade of nations.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Putin’s Group of Eight partners, were in the house. So was Chinese President Xi Jinping. And United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appeared in a video message.

Putin held court with some of his guests in the hours before the opening ceremonies. He was seen on Russian television with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government is in the midst of a crackdown on political opponents.

He met for 45 minutes with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who voiced objection to the anti-propaganda law, according to Dutch television. Rutte tweeted from his official Twitter account: “Expressed the concern of Dutch government and populace about human rights and specific rights of LGBTs in Russia.”

Other world leaders and heads of state arrived in force at Sochi’s airport, including Prince Albert of Monaco, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan

Russian Olympic organizers declined to provide a full list of foreign dignitaries who attended the opening ceremony.

However, RIA Novosti, a Russian government-operated news agency, breathlessly reported online that “The Sochi Olympics have barely begun yet already the first world record looks sure to be smashed: More than 50 heads of state and government are to attend Friday’s opening ceremony.”

“That’s more than at the last two Games in Turin (Italy) and Vancouver (Canada) combined,” the Russian Olympic organizers said in a statement, according to RIA.

But the number of world leaders who skipped the opening ceremony read like a “Who’s Who of Who’s Not Here.”

President Barack Obama and top administration officials remained stateside. Instead, the White House dispatched a low-level delegation led by former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The delegation included Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano and U.S. hockey player Caitlin Cahow, who are both gay.

First lady Michelle Obama led the U.S. delegation at the 2012 summer Olympics in London. And Vice President Joe Biden headlined the American contingent for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. President George W. Bush attended the 2008 summer Games in Beijing.

“Well there is no doubt we wanted to make it very clear that we do not abide by discrimination in anything, including sexual orientation, and one of the wonderful things about the Olympics is that you are judged by your merit,” Obama said in an interview with NBC’s Bob Costas.

Other G8 members joined Obama in skipping the Winter Games’ festivities. British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and German Chancellor Angela Merkel all steered clear of Sochi.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, presiding over his first Olympics, only alluded to the anti-propaganda law flap in his opening ceremony remarks. Bach, asked constantly about the law and its potential impact on athletes and fans in the weeks leading up to the games, has repeatedly said he has received assurances by Russian officials that the law won’t pose a problem.

“Yes, it is possible — even as competitors — to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason,” he said.

He then offered a pointed message to world leaders and heads of state: Keep your politics out of the Olympics.

“Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of these athletes,” he said.

 Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT

  • Dominick Vila

    There is no room for politics in an event design to promote global unity and sportsmanship. The relentless attacks against Russia by FAUX, and the FAUX Light media in the USA detracts from the spirit of the event and demonstrate a level of immaturity, influenced by hatred and fear, that reflects more on us than on its intended target. Enjoy the games!

    • sigrid28

      Thanks for offering an important caveat, Dominick. I was taken aback by CNN’s impulse to jump on the snowflake-to-ring failure in the opening ceremony at Sochi–an incident NBC downplayed rather elegantly in its coverage, which focused instead on the international character of the dignitaries in attendance, the national origins and sportsmanship of Olympians during the procession within the ceremony, and the artistry of the whole. The NBC broadcast team offered a balanced picture of Sochi as a world class sports venue, instead of emphasizing the many problems with which Russia and Putin have been beset in attempting to take a major step toward the future.

      Other stations seemed intent on emphasizing security threats and substandard accommodations, notably Fox News and as you say CNN, which I call Fox News Lite. The right-wing media shouldn’t be so fast to ridicule Russian efforts to endorse progress in the 21st century if they are going to endorse environmental collapse brought on by Red state legislatures and GOP policies that degrade our water supply and permit further weakening of national infrastructure. In Red states like West Virginia, where the water supply for 300,000 is still not safe, and North Carolina, where tons of coal ash threaten water quality in a major river, and in the West, where Republicans urge the president to approve the Exon pipeline that would expose the aquifer that supplies an entire region of the country with its drinking water, the GOP and the right-wing media seem intent on reducing the United States to conditions not unlike those Russia faced in the aftermath of the Soviet Union–for two decades it has been a failed state where substandard living conditions are the rule rather than the exception. At least the Russians are trying to go forward, while Republicans in this country and their Fox News cheerleaders seem intent on turning the clock back on all of the progress the U.S. has experienced in the twentieth century.

      • Independent1

        Great recap, thanks!! What the GOP is doing would be a tradgedy even if it was only turning America into a quasi 3rd world country – with as you pointed out, poluted rivers and a poluted environment that the GOP seems blind to from its constant support for coal-fired power plants and allowing Big Oil to drill in some of America’s most prestine places.

        But it goes beyond that, it’s gotten to the level where GOP governance is costing people’s lives. Here’s the link to an article highlighting Charlie Crist in Florida putting it to Rick Scott for not pushing harder to expand Medicaid. Crist has arrived at an estimate that 6 people are dying prematurely everyday because of Scott’s failure to expand Medicaid.

        And it even goes far beyond that: lax regulations and bare bones budgets with state skelton government staffs has resulted in Red States leading the nation in some many categories related to people dying prematurely, that people in Red States already live at least 2 year shorter lives and in even as high as 4-5 year shorter lives (there are 4 red states with longevity projects of to 75 years and 9 blue

        states with longevity of 80 and over).

        Here’s the link to that article on Crist:

        • sigrid28

          If Democratic candidates were to point out that Republican policies are costing people’s lives, their GOP counterparts would probably just respond as David Wildstein did in New Jersey, when a colleague pointed out that the traffic jam he had created on the George Washington Bridge endangered children taking busses on their first day to school. Wildstein replied (as if to say, “not to worry”), “But those are the children of Buono voters,” referring to Chris Christie’s opponent in his campaign for governor in the 2013. The nastiness on the far right, which I and many others attribute to racial animus toward President Obama, seems to have given license to callous disregard toward anyone whose opinions are not identical to mine. In this, Red State governors and legislatures do seem unperturbed by the suffering they are causing their constituents. So fast to call President Obama a “king,” Republicans have had the nerve to create the “Let them eat cake” states, which is a throwback to the 18th century. Their reign has cost–and is costing lives, which seems OK with their base. Democrats will have to register voters and then get them to the polls as if their lives depended on it, because, in fact, for many–they do.

          • Independent1

            I think we can only hope that the number of right-wing supporters who would go along with the notion that it’s okay to let people die just to get your way, is not all of those who are currently supporting the GOP; and that some right-wingers will in fact wake up and realize that they’re voting to shorten their lives when they vote in GOP politicians.
            And with respect to those who accuse Obama of acting like a “king’ by issuing executive orders, more Democrats need to point out that it was actually a Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt, who started acting like a “king” back in the early 1900s by taking what had been a rare occurence – presidents issuing executive orders (EOs), and doing just like Reagan, who acted like a drunken sailor with respect to spending -Teddy acted like a drunken sailor with respect to issuing EOs: Teddy issued 1,081 EOs. This led several other presidents to do likewise: Woodrow Wilson issued 1,803, Warren Harding issued 528, Calvin Coolidge issued 1,203, Herbert Hoover issued 968 and FDR issued 3,522; even Truman issued 967 and Eisenhower issued 484. Obama is a far cry from any of those numbers at 167 EOs.