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Feb 27 2014

Sochi: A Mysterious City Takes the World’s Stage

by at 11:56 am


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Omari Faulkner

Omari Faulkner (@ostreet3)

By: Omari Faulkner, Adjunct Professor –Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies Sports Industry Management

Before an uplifting note was sung at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, the excitement typically surrounding the most anticipated sports event in the world was overshadowed by scrutiny.  Numerous terrorist threats and lack of Russian security forces created a sense of doubt that rode Russia’s coattail right into the opening ceremony.  Many wondered how, or if, the Organizing Committee could ever deliver on its promise of a safe and successful Olympic experience in Sochi.

Then there was the location.  Most global citizens were unaware that Sochi even existed, much less knew where the mysterious city, nestled on the Black Sea coast, was.

My current class of Sport, Culture and Diplomacy students confirmed this in a discussion on the games last week.  “Before the Olympics, I had never heard of Sochi,” muttered one of them.  Another student confirmed his sentiments, chiming in on our discussion with, “Well, if the Winter Olympic Games were not in Sochi, you never would have known [about it], and now we are talking about Sochi.”

Truth be told, we were having a conversation about a city that had never received international attention before. But after the XXII Olympic Winter Games and the XI Paralympics Winter Games, Sochi remains a topic for discussion.  The city has already set its sights on the FIFA World Cup in 2018, and has plans for lavish amusement parks and beyond.  Why not?

Whether one believes the Sochi Winter Olympics were a success or not, or if they were darkened by the neighboring conflict in the Ukraine, is fodder for debate’s sake.  One thing that was evident during the opening and closing ceremonies was that the Russia Olympic Organizing Committee understood the importance of seizing the moment, and honed in on the Power of Sports Culture.

Russia obviously aimed to open its history books for the world to see, and to tell a story of the country’s rich, cultural heritage, particularly through music.  Endless performances from Russia’s most noted musical artists were featured, and spectators and viewers were awed by the performance of the Russian National Anthem by a children’s choir.  An ensemble of 1,000 youth, representing 83 regions of the country, the choir’s performance was undoubtedly one of the most poignant moments of the entire games.  As the voices of those children rose above that stadium, anyone watching couldn’t help but be moved.  They were the keepers of Russia’s future and ambassadors of peace, standing right before us.

Amid the touching performances and stellar athleticism, no Olympic games are without their fair share of negative controversy.  While clutching boldly-colored flags, the participating athletes—some friends, some foes—marched in unison in Sochi, representing their respective nations during the opening ceremony.  Nearby, protests of all sorts ensued.

Given the global eye that the Olympic Games command, activists smartly use opportunities such as this to mobilize their base, and to allow their political activism and social justice voices to be heard around the world.  Protests have become a staple to the Olympic Global Games.

However, not all protests occur in the streets, or are engineered to disrupt the games.  During the medal ceremony at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, African-American track and field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists as a gesture of solidarity, to bring attention to the battle for human rights. Depicted today as one of the most memorable, silent moments of activism in Olympic history, their courageous action helped to advance the American Civil Rights Movement.

In a similarly silent, yet brave act, some Ukrainian athletes opted to remain at the games in Sochi to face adversity and compete as gunfire and violence erupted in Kiev.  Some athletes were compelled to return home to their families, but whether they stayed or fled, a strong voice reverberated from the Ukrainian athletes. Their presence, in both body and spirit, was heartfelt by the global community.

Soon, the lights will dim on what is now being labeled as the most expensive, innovative and technologically advanced Olympics in history.  One thing is for sure, we all know the name Sochi, and will never forget it.  The ball is now in Russia’s court to capitalize on the international spotlight, to build on the value of sports to impact areas such as education, economic development, leadership skills, and to create even stronger communities.

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