The Riot of Sochi 2014

Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova and Maria (Masha) Alekhina of Pussy Riot, via the New Yorker

Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova and Maria (Masha) Alekhina of Pussy Riot, via the New Yorker

After I came back from London in 2012, I had a slew of people ask me if I was going to Sochi in 2014. I stared at them dumbfounded.

“They put Pussy Riot in jail! I can’t imagine what they’d do to me.”

Yes, a passing stupid joke, but I don’t know why anyone would think I’d want to go to Russia for the Olympics. While London 2012 was mostly harmless, Sochi 2014 gave me the chills. I couldn’t imagine something good coming out of it. What I read about London 2012 preceding the Games was expected in the course of the Olympics: people complaining about an upheaval. Considering these people are British with a tendency to avoid getting excited about things, I was slightly anxious going in but unsurprised at how happily the Games were received. The whole thing seemed to be people complaining about bad weather, rain before a sunny day.

The sense I get from Sochi 2014 is an oncoming storm.

However.

The Olympics is usually unpredictable when it comes to media coverage. It’s unpredictable in general. That’s the damn point. The most alluring stories of the Olympics are twofold: the athletes wins and losses and the political stories we subscribe to these stories which are ultimately meaningless in the long run. Having every country in the world send a female athlete — as I wrote about during the London 2012 Olympics — does not change the fact that women’s rights around the world are subpar, to put it lightly. It gives us hope though, which is usually the best and brightest the Olympics can offer. It takes these personal stories of athletes and magnifies them on a national and political scale so they become of collective import, a case study in how we can be.

Plus a recent New Yorker article points out that Pussy Riot is now out of jail after being granted amnesty and is not shutting up about it:

I got in touch with Tolokonnikova and Alekhina, who were just released from Russian prison colonies after nearly two years—part of Putin’s pre-Olympic amnesties, which are clearly intended to tamp down criticism from human-rights organizations and foreign governments. They will appear onstage at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, on February 5th, with Madonna, the Flaming Lips, Imagine Dragons, and Lauryn Hill, at a benefit concert for Amnesty International. They will not perform their music, but they will have things to say.

According to the article, while Pussy Riot was released thanks to pressures from the West, they were supposed to get out in two months. They talk about how Putin is maintaining an image, a false fortitude:

“These Olympic Games are central to the meaning of his life—they are as important to him as anything he has done,” Alekhina said. “For us, it is important from an entirely different point of view. People need to note the corruption involved in building Sochi for the Games; they should notice the demolitions of buildings.”

Tolokonnikova and Alekhina said they thought that Putin, despite managing to suppress the wave of anti-government protests that erupted in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia two years ago, is weaker than he seems to the outside world.

Russian anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny goes deeper into the issue:

Navalny, who told me that the 2014 Olympic project is, for Putin, “what the pyramids were for the pharaohs,” also said that the government amnesties shortening the prison terms of the Pussy Riot members, the businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and some Greenpeace activists were merely a concession to the West on the eve of the Games. “The amnesties indicate that Putin is tired of answering these questions,” Navalny said. “He is fed up with the question of gay rights and safety issues and Khodorkovsky. The main point with Khodorkovsky is not the release—it was not launching a third case against him. The Olympic Games is the main reason why it happened, but it doesn’t indicate a real thaw. Yes, he released Khodorkovsky, but only after he was in prison for ten years. Pussy Riot was in prison for two years, and they were supposed to get out in two months. So he found the best-known cases in the West and he addressed them. But, believe me, we have many more cases of illegal prosecution in our country.”

Putin goes into the Olympics with something to prove, something to say. He wants to show how great Russia is, to establish a national identity:

“For Putin, the Olympic Games are an attempt to inflate the inflatable duck of a national idea, as he sees it,” Tolokonnikova told me. “In Russia today, there are no real politics, no real discussion of views, and meanwhile the government tries to substitute for this with hollow forms of a national idea—with the Church, with sports and the Olympics.”

I’m intrigued to see him try. Maybe Putin will actually achieve his stupid dream and make us think of Russia differently, as a country with a culture that is not full of political strife. But between political and security concerns and human rights abuses, what is happening instead is he is relenting in these areas. He is attempting to downplay the damage by quietly erasing the concerns. Instead, they read as tacit admission of how bad it looks. By attempting to increase the cultural story, he has put himself at the mercy of an international audience.

As part of that international audience, I’ll be watching.

On “Man” and “Woman” in Sports

Two articles in the past week, “Man Up,” about the situation with Incognito bullying fellow Dolphins football player Martin, and “She’s All That,” a profile on WNBA player Britney Griner not only examine the sports narratives of manhood and womanhood, they show how sports causes misdirection, re-evaluation, and redefinition of what these terms mean. They are prime examples of how sports turns a cultural subtext into a textual narrative we can dissect.

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Three Big Olympic Decisions in Buenos Aires

This weekend, the International Olympic Committee gathered in Buenos Aires and had a big party that I wasn’t invited to made some big decisions that would reverberate throughout the next few years on a very international scale. Luckily, each representative is chosen by democratic vote by all Olympic partici — wait, what am I saying? Actually, the IOC’s new members are chosen by the current IOC’s members, based on no criteria whatsoever. Well, maybe wealth, and fame, and networking. Yes, it’s exactly like high school. And yes, that means all their decisions can be made — and likely are made — based on personal interest.

Anyway, they decided a lot of important Olympic decisions all on their own. In each circumstance, the country or sport made an impassioned bid and the IOC voted privately.

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An Overcomplicated, Underrated Issue: Russia’s Gay Ban Controversy

So I wanted to write a post about the controversy arising from a Russian lawmaker’s comment that Russia’s homophobic laws would be enacted with extreme prejudice on Olympic athletes. Unfortunately, this was very hard to write because I had a lot of righteous anger that is not usually conducive to typing on a computer, mainly because your urge to throw something across the room is in direct opposition with that fact. I wasn’t planning on writing about Sochi 2014 so soon. There’s so much information that I decided to organize this post on all the players involved. Please keep in mind that my tone is jesting because sometimes you have to laugh rather than continue to pull your hair out.

sochi 2014

Look how pretty! Look how homophobic!

The Russian Government

Haha, Russia. You’re so funny. Yes, let’s host the largest international sporting event in the world and then threaten the people coming with possible human rights abuses. That’ll really up our brand. Better yet, let’s threaten the men and women who, by coming to this Olympics, are some of the most finely honed physical specimens in the world. They can probably all kill us with their bare hands and eat us for breakfast and then win a gold medal.

And what’s with you, passing such laws in the first place? Alright Russia, pretend you can do what you want and you don’t care what anyone thinks. I mean, it’s not like you’ve ever had to face the consequences when it comes to your actions towards minority groups, right? You’re been Russia all my life, so it’s always been that way, right?

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Corporate Sponsors (And Olympic Deals)

Tube Station

The corporate sponsors were inescapable during the Games.

Tube Station

Coca Cola, anyone?

Not just in advertising, but in advertising for advertising — the LOCOG made sure you knew who was paying for all the pink around the city.

Posters

All your sponsors gathered in one place!

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Guest Post: If I Could Just Have a Minute of Your Time

Here’s another great guest post from an Annenberg alum (with a master’s in global communication), Jason Reinin, about the IOC’s decision not to have a moment of silence for the murders at the 1972 Munich Olympics. To learn more about the events at Munich, please read the powerful book ‘One Day in September’ or watch the documentary (narrated by Michael Douglas) of the same name for free here.

1972 Munich

The 1972 Israeli Delegation to the Olympic Games with those numbered who did not return.

 

I love the Olympics.  I cheer for the US in any sport they’re in, even if it’s an obscure sport I’ve never heard of.  And I’m not alone.  I root for the same team as every American.  Black, white, rich, poor, Muslim, Christian, tall, short, young, old, you name it…we Americans root side-by-side for the team that represents us all. The Olympics are a unifying force that pushes us past our political differences and towards our commonality.

But it’s more than that.

When the Olympics are on, I find myself not just rooting for the US, but for all the athletes. While techniques for the various sports may differ from country to country, the human spirit and drive for excellence is the same. Watching 204 countries representing a beautiful tapestry of humanity, of every color and social class, competing in the same rigidly controlled sports competitions is truly awe-inspiring. As if a thousand accents were all speaking the same language simultaneously around the world.

The magic of the Olympics is the unification of the globe in an apolitical way.  It has the power to unite all humankind through our common bonds. And this is why I was disappointed by the choice that was made to not hold a minute of silence for the 11 Olympic athletes murdered 40 years ago.

At the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Germany, there was a sense of hope reverberating around the globe.  A country that was the pariah of the world, an invader of countries and perpetrators of the Holocaust just decades prior was now holding an event to bring the world together.  This was an idea celebrated throughout the world, and having Israel, the Jewish State, compete was good for everybody.

Unfortunately, this hope was soon shattered as a terrorist group named ‘Black September’ (named for the Jordanian massacre of Palestinians in September of 1970) simply climbed the fence into the Olympic village and went looking for the Israeli team.  Two members of the Olympic delegation from Israel were murdered immediately and nine members were taken hostage with demands that 200 political prisoners be freed from various countries around the world. The Olympics had a decision to make. Do they carry on with the games or do they stop them?

It took 11 hours before Germany stopped the games.  After more hours of negotiation and pleading, Germany took the terrorists and the hostages to a nearby airfield where they were supposed to board a plane to escape, but instead were met with snipers who killed all but three of the Black September group. Unfortunately this was a botched mission and before the snipers could kill the terrorists, all the hostages were murdered.

This wasn’t just an attack on Israelis, but also an attack on the idea that the Olympics are a place to rise above politics.  We cheer for gold medalists of any competition, not because s/he comes from a specific country, but because we recognize how hard it is to reach true excellence.   Conversely, we feel the same way for those athletes who stumble and fall because we have all been there ourselves.  We empathize with the athletes because they are all human beings and thus a reflection of our global family. And when members of our family pass away, we hold memorial for them.

It is now 2012 and the 40th anniversary of the 11 murdered in Munich.  Many requests were made by Israel and several peace groups to hold a minute of silence during the opening ceremonies. The 1972 Israeli team participated in a global healing process by competing in Germany where 6 million of their people were murdered. The least the Olympic committee can do is spare one minute to pay respect and show solidarity in the same spirit.

I understand, however, that anything having to do with Israel is automatically a politicized issue, and the Olympic committee, as I’ve seen, usually bends to the polemics. This can be seen most recently with news that the Lebanese team has refused to practice next to the Israeli team without a wall being built between them. Instead of the IOC rising above the politics of these countries, they literally put a wall in between them.  However, in the greater scheme of things, it does not make a difference if the 11 murdered were Israeli or not. The reality is that those lost could have been any athletes from any country.

I’m disappointed because it is such a rare opportunity that the world has this chance to rise above politics and demonstrate global unity.  Holding one minute, not for Israeli athletes, but for the HUMAN athletes would demonstrate that the politics of a terrorist group cannot overrun the games and that the humanity of a global family can shine through.

Just as I would cheer for any athlete winning gold and representing the excellence of mankind or tense up when any athlete from any country stumbles, I would mourn and argue for this moment of silence for any country that had this tragedy befall them. Not for the benefit of the specific country, but for the human spirit of us all. The Munich massacre was not an Israel-specific tragedy, but an Olympic (and therefore global) one.

Yes, memorial services have been held in the past and off-camera remarks have been made with true and sincere caring about the lost athletes. However, the horror of Munich took place in front of the world to politicize an issue and therefore it seems only appropriate to commemorate it by holding a moment of silence in front of the world to see. Just to spare one moment during the opening ceremony would have been a strong showing that we are indeed a world family. We must show those who are against the idea of a global humanity that the Olympic family, as a representation of the world family, doesn’t just let our members be executed and forgotten.  I agree with Olympic broadcaster Bob Costas who, before taking a self-imposed on-air 5 seconds of silence during the opening ceremony, said, “…For many, tonight with the world watching, is the true time and place to remember those who were lost and how and why they died”.  There are rare moments in time when we can do the right thing on a global level, and I believe the IOC missed its moment here.

Shortly before being taken hostage, Andre Spitzer, one of the members of the Israeli team, approached a member of the Lebanese team and had a short, cordial conversation with him about sports. Outside of the Olympics, this would have been almost impossible given the political situation. Upon Andre’s return to the Israeli team he remarked, “…that’s exactly what the Olympics are all about; here I can go over and talk to them…you see? This is what I was dreaming about…”

Human commonality and spirit above politics, this is what we should all dream about.

In the face of an Olympic tragedy, an Olympic minute for memorial was asked. One minute to honor those lost. One minute of a three-hour ceremony. One minute to showcase global unity.

The time it took you to read this post was probably about five minutes.

CPD Blog: For the Fans

I wrote an essay for the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy blog for an in-depth look at my project.

via the New York Times

via the New York Times

The Olympics are never free of controversy. The competing agendas of Olympic stakeholders lead to clashes–tensions are born and re-awakened. Everything from the problematic omniscience of the International Olympic Committee and NBC’s intense focus on the United States  to the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games’ many bouts with disgruntled Britons  has contributed to an Olympic Games that is, per usual, a mixture of excitement and annoyance.

via ScreenRant.com

via ScreenRant.com

The most constant part of the Olympics is the fans. Not necessarily the intense sports fans; just the people who love the Olympics, who weave their enthusiasm into their everyday lives. The Games will just never want for fans because they appeal to everyone to some degree, whether casual or passionate. Even if you’re not a particular lover of sports, the opening ceremonies promise to entertain (thanks to Danny Boyle bringing in elements such as sheep and Daniel Craig as James Bond ). And perhaps a new sport will catch your eye; if not because of the novelty of a sport like synchronized swimming being showcased on an international scale, then perhaps because of spellbinding Olympic moments with athletes like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. Then there are the people who want to see the bliss of the Olympics in real time and come to the actual place – maybe for the first time or the fifth, but nevertheless with passion.

As a Master’s of Public Diplomacy student at the University of Southern California, these are the people that are of most interest to me. I want to see the people who want to be mired in the exhilaration of the Games. Before entering my degree program, I was already vaguely interested in the Olympics, but through my studies, specifically in cultural diplomacy, I focused my perspective on the Games as an international diplomatic event that has several combating schemas with everyone in the world potentially watching.

via the Economist

via the Economist

To take a closer look at the Olympics as a tool of cultural diplomacy, I am making a documentary focusing on the motivations and desires of these fans. I chose a documentary because of my past experience in production and to be able to tell these fans’ stories in their own words. Through them, I will also analyze the magnetic draw of the Olympics that entices broadcasterscorporate sponsors and host countries to pay billions of dollars merely to be associated with the Games, even if they do not gain from it monetarily. In terms of the visibility, the profit is enormous, even more so now that approximately one third of the world’s population is connected by the Internet; and, this Olympic Games is the most social-media fueled ever  thanks to the popularity of sites like Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.

This latter element is another part of my project – connecting with fans around the world as they gather either in London or in front of their screens through my blog and other social media. Fans connect in different ways through this media: Tumblr focuses on sharing photos (such as that of the Olympic Torch going through their respective towns); Facebook has a special page for fans to focus on athletes; national broadcasters host Q & A sessions with athletes on Twitter.

Before the Opening Ceremony, I am focusing on the various news stories surrounding the Games: the IOC’s gender regulation, ticket controversies, and the frustration of the fans at the policing of their entertainment, which can range from a restriction on using “London 2012” on anything to banning gifts to the athletes because “free” will compete with corporate sponsors. During the Games, I will go directly to London and meet with the fans – specifically at the London festival, fan-hosted events, and any areas where fans congregate, such as Olympic concerts.

For such a politicized, monetized, and overwrought event, it is inspiring to find sincere anticipation. Of course, every type of event where there are winners and losers has cynicism, but the problems feel more pronounced on an international scale. The fans may be the main audience for all these different agendas and the most irritated by the various mishaps and missteps, but they are also the ones who will be watching no matter what.

Guest Post: Can Sport Really Change The World? (Part II)

Here is Part II of Kelsey Suemnicht’s epic essay. Read Part I here.

The British band “Kinetika Bloco” performs on the Great Wall of China in 2007 to help promote the upcoming Games. / SOURCE: Apple Travel

The Arts / Cultural Diplomacy

My favorite part of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Charter is “to encourage and support initiatves blending sport with culture and education.” A slice of culture permeates through the television and into our living rooms during the opening and closing ceremonies, appointed times for the host country to display examples of its performing arts heritage. But the cultural programming surrounding any Olympics Games is best experienced in person.

There is a constant buzz of exhibits and performances that entertain fans of the Games outside of the competitions. In Salt Lake City, dance troupes from around the western United States were chosen to perform at street fairs and celebrations held in the evenings, after competitions had finished for the day. During its Games, Turin held one of Italy’s renowned White Nights or “Notte Bianca”, where a city offers free admission to all of its museums for 24 hours.

Fans walk the street during “La Notte Bianca” (or White Night) of the 2006 Turin Olympics / SOURCE: Sports Illustrated

The Olympic city showcases it’s own art but also plays host to visiting artists from around the world. The cultural diplomacy surrounding the games can be ad hoc, when visiting fans feel compelled to play their music on a street corner or it can also be organized based on significant partnerships. A connection is often forged between the current city and the next city that will host the Games. For example, the “Canada House” was given a prominent location along a main street at the Turin games, providing a forum for Canada to showcase it’s pride as the host of the 2010 Games. Some attendees wouldn’t have otherwise thought to attend the Vancouver Games if they hadn’t first experienced the preview of Canadian hospitality in Turin.

In many ways, the arts provide a stronger experience of a foreign culture in a way that is more potent than any sport could ever be. By incorporating cultural diplomacy within the games, the Olympics provides an excellent example of a well-rounded public diplomacy campaign.

Food / Culinary Diplomacy

Encompassed within the IOC’s mission is the goal of “[ensuring] the regular celebration of the Olympic Games;” this includes obtaining adequate sponsorship funds to keep the Games afloat. It’s convenient to find your favorite snack at a soccer game or to see a familiar bottle of water when you’ve hiked to your stadium seats. But, the local fare is not to be missed (and is often free, offered as a symbol of cultural exchange)!

Swiss Chef, Béda Zingg, served fondue, charcuterie and more at the Swiss House in 2010. SOURCE: Straight.com

Rumor has it, the Beijing Games ran out of refreshments to sell because they underestimated how many visiting fans would want to try their traditional foods. Wandering the streets of Salt Lake City were Hot Chocolate Ambassadors, sponsored by Nestlé, serving free cups of chocolate to fans. At the base of the mountain north of Turin, where all Ski events were held in 2006, the people of Sestriere would serve traditional dishes every evening. Sport unites fans because it’s a common experience publics can share, but what more common of an experience is there than eating?

Transaction

If the period of sustained interaction with foreign publics is only two weeks, it’s important to capitalize on opportunities for attendees to engage with each other. The element of transaction finds root in the IOC’s commitment to “take action in order to strengthen the unity and to protect the independence of the Olympic Movement.” The Olympics excels at providing forums, incentives, and methods for transaction, because it depends on appealing to the international nature and the willingness of the attendees to participate in communal events. My memory of this element occured in two forums at the Olympics I attended: the Pin Trade and “Hospitality Houses”.

The Olympic Pin Trade provide a connection between fans from around the world. Surrounding any Games, an attendee will notice fans trading different pins between each other. Some do it for fun but others come to each Olympics with serious goals to acquire pins new and old. This is an excellent forum in which transaction and exchange can occur, even without two fans needing to speak the same language.

Holland House Party, 2010 SOURCE: Vancouver Magazine

Hospitality Houses are another forum the Olympics provides for transaction between fans. Countries can set up a tent or take over a park for a chance to showcase their country’s hospitality customs. Inside each Hospitality House are many forums in which fans can interact with each other, country representatives, sponsors, and athletes. Above, the notorious Holland House is sponsored by Heineken and offered discounted drinks, lounge areas, and a live Dutch DJ mastering the ceremonies each night at the 2010 Vancouver Games. As was showcased earlier in culinary diplomacy, Switzerland used its House as a restaurant, offering gourmet traditional cuisine to any fan who could make a reservation. The next country to host the Games might offer a preview of what is to come in four years, as was the case for Canada. For the London 2012 Games, the African countries will unite to put on a Hospitality House representing an entire continent for the first time.

Transaction implemented for the goal of transformation is a useful public diplomacy tactic to create experiences that will enable more effective and thorough international relations. The foundation of effective public diplomacy is listening, the most basic transaction. All diplomacy should strive to be transactional in order to establish a trusting international relationship. Harvard University Professor Joeseph Nye discusses transactional and tranformational power in his book, The Powers To Lead:

 “Transformational leaders… use conflict and crisis to raise their followers’ consciousness and transform them. [They] mobilize power for change by appealing to their followers’ higher ideals and moral values…. Transactional leaders rely on various individual interests. [They] create concrete incentives to influence followers’ efforts and set out rules that relate work to rewards” (62-63).

When we view the Olympics as a public diplomacy event, transformation is the goal, similar to the principal goal for foreign exchange programs between universities of different countries. Transformational experiences in regards to a foreign public give citizens concrete experiences as evidence for changing their mind against conflicts with that foreign public. Critical transactions work towards achieving the goal of transformation.

With the Olympics offering an opportunity to employ such productive public diplomacy tactics, could this experience be replicated elsewhere? Or does it only work every two years, because it is such a rare experience? Do to the Olympics capitalize on the experience enough to reap the benefits of such a strong public diplomacy event?

The Olympics prove that publics are willing to interact and connect, but that they need to be provided with the forums in which to do so. I challenge you to seek out the Olympic Experience for yourself; to discover if it may change you or, better yet, inspire you to change the world.

Guest Post: Can Sport Really Change The World? (Part I)

Here is the latest guest post from my Master’s of Public Diplomacy peers — this time from Kelsey Suemnicht, whose in-depth analysis needed to be split in two for your reading pleasure!

The Olympics is an event that makes international relations feel easy and fun. Considering the Olympic Games as an example of a large-scale public diplomacy campaign, I highlight five themes that support its efforts as a catalyst in cross-cultural relations: individual empowerment, regionalism, art, food, and transaction. In the realm of diplomacy, the Olympic dream represents the hope that sport is truly capable of changing the world; the direct influence upon, engagement of, and interaction between fans surrounding the competitions is evidence that it can.

The Olympic rings lit up on the Tower Bridge

The Olympic rings lit up on the Tower Bridge (via Mirror UK)

As David Mandel explained in his post, “Pride and Prejudice 2012,” hosting an Olympic games signifies a proud moment for any city, region, country, population. The strength of any Games comes from the support of the local community and the experiences of attendees within those communities, which I feel is rarely captured on television. It is the experiences in forums on site that exemplify basic public diplomacy and where the cross-cultural relations that support the spirit of the Games most often occur.

My Olympic experience took place in two locations that are significant to my own narrative. My cousins’ hometown of Park City was headquarters for all ski and snowboard events for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. It was an influential experience to act as the host country and to watch the best atheletes in the world ski the same runs on which I had learned how to crash and fly as a child. The 2006 Torino games coincided with my junior year of college when I chose to study political science and the Italian language abroad in Bologna and Rome. The opportunity to view the Olympics through the eyes of a new culture was a fundamental experience in my pursuit of public diplomacy as a career.

When we tune in to the Olympics on television, we’re privvy to exclusive interviews, sweeping photography of the host city, and the back-to-back coverage of fast-paced competitions. But the constantly-promoted “Olympic Spirit” can be accessed at its crux in the midst of the Games as an attendee. What happens off-camera, on your way to the stadium, as one leaves an arena, and in the outer-lying towns? The essence of public diplomacy.

Jesse Owens, 1935

Jesse Owens, 1935

Individual Empowerment / Citizen Diplomacy

Individual empowerment is a cornerstone of the Olympic Charter: ”The role of the International Olympic Committee is to act against any form of discrimination,…[implement] equality between women and men,…and to provide for the social and professional futures of athletes.” The Olympics provides citizens an opportunity to participate as diplomatic actors on behalf of their home countries. The most visible example of this theme is celebrity diplomats. A legendary athlete can change a sport simply by being themselves, exhibited by the examples of Jesse OwensBonnie Blair, and Wayne Gretzky. A famous athlete can also influence the image of their home country as do Usain BoltMario Balotelli, or Michelle Kwan.

My Mom and I experienced a more-nuanced form of citizen diplomacy at the first Ski Jumping competition in Park City, Utah. As citizens of the host country for the 2002 Games, we decided to take it upon ourselves to cheer for any international athletes that didn’t seem to have a fan base. Our favorite immediately became the least supported athlete, a Ski-Jumper from Kazakhstan. We yelled our hearts out to cheer him on, not wanting him to feel homesick or unsupported. I will always harbor good feelings for people from Kazakhstan because I recall the bravery that athlete embraced, to show up to compete even though Ski Jumping was a lesser-known sport and his family could not afford to accompany him. This was an athlete that would not be featured on television and would probably not even place within the top ten. His courage reminded me that sport transcends national identities and recalls the common bonds we share as humans.

In Turin, my Dad and I found ourselves with tickets to a Curling match. We had no idea how to cheer for the sport but we decided to attend in an effort to uphold the Olympic Spirit. I still do not know the rules of Curling but we departed with a wonderful notion of how to tell Nordic vs. Scandinavian flags from each other, given to us by acquaintances made in the stands. By the end of the event, we also had the Swedish national anthem, “Du gamla, Du fria”, memorized thanks to our new friends, seven of Sweden’s most passionate Curling fans. For fans of the Olympics, sometimes the Games don’t matter as much as the lasting friendships made and the new knowledge gained.

Flag Country Governance Capital Population
Official Scandinavian countries
demark flag Denmark Kingdom Copenhagen 5,519,287
norway flag Norway Independence 1905 Oslo 4,836,183
sweden flag Sweden Kingdom Stockholm 9,336,487
The additional Nordic nations
finland flag Finland Independence 1917 Helsinki 5,349,829
iceland flag Iceland Independence 1944* Reykjavík 319,756
Nordic autonomous regions
faroe islands flags Faroe Islands Self-governance 1948 Tórshavn 49,006
greenland flag Greenland Self-governance 1979 Nuuk 57,600
åland flag Åland Islands Autonomous province 1920* Mariehamn 27,456

(via Lost in Stockholm)

Regionalism

The Olympics is an event that inspires many individuals to unite in a common quest for excellence in sportmanship and teamwork. One fascinating concept I experienced as a fan and attendee of two games is the emergence of regional identities. The IOC seeks to upholds this element in its mission “to cooperate…in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace.”

via BBC

I will never forget the friendly Canadian I asked for directions in Turin who, when I thanked him, he replied, “always happy to help a fellow North American!” When I would meet a fan from Mexico, I would exclaim, “oh! I’m from California,” because it felt as if I was meeting a long-lost cousin. When you’re across the world from home, at a global event, it’s not uncommon to strike up bonds with your neighbors that you wouldn’t have previously considered in a different context.  As American University Professor Robert Pastor promotes in his book The North American Idea, “transnational problems cannot be solved unilaterally… The opening of each country to each other and the world represents an enhancement of rights not their restriction. Sometimes sovereignty can be defended better by eliminating barriers and not raising them, by working closely with each other not by distancing ourselves” (6-14).

The opportunity that the Olympics presents for regionalism to influence global affairs, and for public diplomacy to promote it should not be taken lightly.

Read Part II of Kelsey’s piece here.

Guest Post: Pride and Prejudice 2012

This guest post was written by my extremely clever friend, fellow Olympics fan and USC Master’s of Public Diplomacy student David Mandel.

I’ll have you know this is difficult to write. I wanted to be objective; I wanted to stay above the pride and just give you some impersonal, easy-to-digest material about Olympic cities. Clearly, that’s not going to happen.

Maybe I should start again.

The 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin was a pretty uneventful occasion. I think the most salient take-away for most foreign fans was that ‘Turin’ and ‘Torino’ is the same place. Still, I have the most vivid memory of watching those games, and more intensely, watching the majestic crane and swoop shots of the picturesque city that buttressed all the coverage. I thought, wow, what a thing for all the world to be shown that beautiful place in such a remarkable way.

The Closing Ceremonies for the 2006 Turin Olympics

The Closing Ceremonies for the 2006 Turin Olympics

I had always loved the Olympics: the pageantry, the meaning, the sheer force of the Olympics’ exertion upon my cultural landscape created in my impressionable mind a sense that the Olympics were the ultimate occasion.

It was then, in the aftermath of Turin, that my rather innocent infatuation with the Olympics became something decidedly more intoxicating. I thought: perhaps in the near future my two great loves, the Olympics and my home city of Chicago, might be united and provide me a televisual self-love nirvana for a few weeks in 2016.

The applicant city logos for the 2016 Olympics

The applicant city logos for the 2016 Olympics

I think I might have predated the official Chicago 2016 bid by a couple of months.

Following the bid became an obsession for me; I tried every summer to find a job working for them and proselytized to every (non)interested person who would listen about the greatness of Chicago and all the reasons it would be the host city. I fantasized about the breathless descriptions of Chicago’s beauty, about the hometown president saluting his city, about the “Paris on the Prairie” reclaiming its 1893 reputation as the exemplar of urban excellence.

When, one October morning, I updated my browser page in the middle of Econ 2a, I found that Chicago had been eliminated in the first round of voting. Just like that.

Chicago Olympics 2016, eliminated on Friday, Oct. 2, 2009 (AP Photo)

Chicago Olympics 2016, eliminated on Friday, Oct. 2, 2009 (AP Photo)

I was crushed; more upset than any grown man should admit to about such an esoteric thing. My years of unhealthy devotion to the cause had ended in sudden betrayal. ‘Rio 2016’ stung in my ears. For two years I avoided coverage of the Olympics, still too angry—jealous—to confront my former mistress. Although, I gleefully read all of the journalistic worrying about Rio’s capabilities, prejudiced as I was to root against the place.

Now, in the incipience of London 2012, I have to move on. I cannot hold my grudge against London, a favorite city of mine and the most deserving place to become the first three-time Olympic host.

Rio 2016, a name which still invokes from me some pangs of disappointment, is a different matter. Unlike London, Rio 2016 is a coming-out party for Brazil. Like Mexico City, Tokyo, Seoul, Barcelona and Beijing before it, Rio 2016 is recognition—an opportunity for a rising power to solidify its stance among the community of nations. If my home-town pride is strong enough to cause my embarrassing reaction, imagine the feelings of cariocas and other Brazilians as they prepare to introduce themselves to the world.

All of this begins to explain some of the fanatical attitudes towards the Olympics. Not all fans care about place in the way I do. Most may not even think about the tremendous advantages hosting a successful games can bring. But, it is impossible to be a fan of the Olympics and divorce yourself from pride, whether for your country, your city or your favorite athlete.

Still, I will watch the games this summer. And read about them before. Hey, I even managed to write about them a little bit. I will accept all of the televisual accoutrements and all the breathless fawning. I will try to put my fandom over my pride, even if I sometimes fail.

I recently heard there’s a new movement to bring the games to Chicago in 2024. A recently signed contract between the USOC and the IOC resolved the tension that was the source of the 2016 snub. I may have been fooled once but my love of both home and the Olympics is foolish; so I’ll know whom to blame if fooled again.