The Sochi Winter Olympic Games have received worldwide attention as many questions regarding security, accommodations, and attendees have circled around the globe. One of the latest stories regarding the Sochi Winter Games is that prominent western leaders have decided to skip the event hosted by Russsia’s Vladimir Putin, highlighting that although the Olympics are primarily about sports, politics is one of the major undertones of the worldwide spectacle.
Perhaps most notable of the absentee world leaders is US President Barack Obama. Obama however is not the only Sochi-skipping head of state as he has been joined in absence by British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Joachim Gauck of Germany, President Francois Hollande of France, and President Dilma Russeff of Brazil. The game-dodging world leaders have not all spoken at great length regarding their absence from Sochi, but President Barack Obama did expand somewhat on his reasons for not attending.
Obama, in an interview with the famous Bob Costas, rebutted claims that his relationship with Russia’s Vladimir Putin was “icy.” Obama explained that when he and the Russian leader meet, the exchanges are quite pleasant, even including some humor and plenty of “give and take.” The summary by Obama sharply contradicted what some have characterized as a tense and cold relationship between the two prominent leaders. Obama went on to state that Vladimir Putin, throughout their many meetings, has treated him “with the utmost respect.”
The characterization of a somewhat functional and respectful relationship between the two leaders however does not explain why President Obama has decided not to attend the Sochi Winter Games. In an attempt to explain his absence, Obama said that the reason he chose not to attend Sochi was that he did not want to take attention away from the athletes and the competition itself. Speculation however may still exist regarding exactly why certain world leaders have chosen to snub Sochi. In the case of the US, there is the recent incident with whistleblower Edward Snowden and his temporary asylum in Russia that has been a topic of much controversy. There is also the recent statements and policies put in place regarding gays in and around Sochi for the olympic games. Although they have not been officially cited, these are two undeniable political undertones present in the relationship between the US and Russia. As for the other political figures not attending, other than the Russian leader’s controversial remarks and policies regarding homosexuals in Sochi, there has not been extensive explanations for their absence.
The conspicuous “Sochi-snub” however has met with some criticism from the International Olympic Committee head, Thomas Bach. Bach criticized leaders who snubbed the Sochi Games, implying that they may be using the games “as a stage for political dissent, or trying to score points in internal or external contexts.” The committee head went on to express gratitude for those leaders who did decide to attend, hinting that the games represented a significant effort in the global initiative for peace.
Despite the few absentee leaders, Putin was not left solitary in Sochi. Although Obama and many other top politicians chose not to attend, the leaders of both China and Japan have not followed suit in skipping the games. The politically charged topic of homosexuality is not as divisive in the Asian nations, and despite Japan stating that it cares about human rights, the visit to Sochi apparently is not viewed as being related to the topic. Along with the two prominent Asian leaders, at least 66 other political leaders or representatives will be in Sochi. The Olympic organizers however refused to state specifically which leaders from which nations will be in attendance.
So, with the games now underway, the latest story in the Sochi saga is that prominent western leaders including US President Barack Obama have decided to resort to a “Sochi-snub” and remain absent from the games. Though President Obama has made statements to dispel the idea of a snub, the lack of explanation from the other prominent leaders, and politically charged issues regarding Snowden along with Russia’s policy towards homosexuals, makes it difficult to believe that absolutely no political motivations were behind the absences.
By Daniel Worku