THE BLOG

The Olympics Will Endure in Spite of Sochi

22/01/2014 11:31 GMT | Updated 23/03/2014 09:59 GMT

The great French tragedian, Pierre Corneille, once said that those who can live in infamy are unworthy of life. It's perhaps fair to assume that he never met a Russian during the purple period of his work.

We are a mere fortnight away from the start of the Sochi Winter Olympics, and already their legacy is assured before a ski has pressed the powder. Between largesse that is set to shame Beijing's efforts, the countless charges of damage to local communities and all of the recent homophobic rhetoric, superhuman achievements are unlikely to shake history's view of a Games that were meant to rebrand Russia.

In many ways it's easy to criticise the IOC. The writing was on the wall back in 2007 when there was a clear choice between the friendly, industrious bid from South Korea's Pyeongchang (ironically the next winter hosts in 2018) and the moneyed summer resort some thousand miles south of Moscow.

The voters were swayed by the futuristic vision of a new Russia - a vision to move the Olympics' uneasy relationship with the region on, forged largely from the events of the 1980 Summer Games. Communism and the Cold War has passed they (and by proxy, we) believed, and in their place was an upwardly mobile, ambitious young country empowered by its choice of host.

To credit Sochi is to say that they have delivered some spectacular venues; and no one doubts that the elusive totalitarianism of Vladimir Putin's leadership will ensure the veneer be laid on thick once the dignitaries land.

But the horse has bolted. That the President is still driving near comical diktats on how homosexuals should behave while images emerge of open-plan toilets in the athletes' village should haunt these games long after the bunting is packed away.

But the Olympics will endure because when it matters most the human stories of spirit, competition and fair play will soar above the inadequacies of the host. The greatest games (read London, Sydney and Barcelona) were ones that managed to merge the best of their culture with the competition. Charges of white elephants and excess are commonplace with events like this and will remain so.

To isolate large cross-sections of your populous and dissuade millions more with legalised hate-laws is something that will tarnish a vision, however polished. And the impact is already being felt, with Sochi 2014 set to experience poor attendance as fears of terrorism and the substantial cost of attending also coming into play.

Excitement is now building around the sports, athletes and teams taking part - as is right. And for all the talk of boycotts, it's absolutely the right thing for the LGBT agenda to be on the front foot without competitors suffering.

In an alternate universe, one could image both the Sochi organisers and IOC bigwigs desperately wanting the games to be out of the way so the conversation can move on to the next host. Like a teenager waiting for an exam the night before. Relief will come once gold medals are dished out. There will be Russian victories to embolden those in power. Others will win too and bring their own stories to the podium. The flame will burn and five-ring circus will roll on.

Sochi's legacy is assured. It will be down to the brave athletes and spectators to ensure the Olympic movement's own legacy is successfully extrapolated.