The Olympic illusion | The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang | DW | 23.02.2014
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The Olympic illusion

The most costly and warmest Olympic Winter Games have ended, with Russia, much to the delight of Vladimir Putin, topping the medal table. DW's Joscha Weber says there was also plenty to criticze in and around Sochi.

When assessing the Sochi Games, one place you could begin is where they didn't take place: in Pobedy Park, located 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) away from the actual site of the Olympics. There, among the pansies, park benches and evergreens, the tone for these Games could have been set. It was there, in the official protest zone, that those who thought it absolutely necessary to protest against human rights abuses, Sochi-gigantism or even the autocratic Olympic host, Vladimir Putin, were free to gather.

However, apart from the odd pedestrian, almost nobody turned up. This was hardly any surprise, because the regulations required would-be protesters to apply for a permit - and have it approved - well in advance. The protest zone was also a long way from the actual games and no more than 100 people were to be allowed to demonstrate at any one time. In other words, this was a farce.

A farce, by its very nature, is not to be taken seriously. This could be said of some of the sporting performances in Sochi as well. Take the top German woman in the biathlon, Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, for example. Fast on the trail, she was subsequently disqualified after failing a doping test. She, too, is no longer to be taken seriously.

Just as farcical is the sporting authorities' talk of "isolated cases." They claim that while a few individuals dope, the overwhelming majority of athletes are clean. The International Olympic Committee's argument that this is proved by the fact that most tests turn up negative is also a farce.

The clean-games illusion

For evidence of this view, one needs to look no further than the range of possibilities to fool the testers. There are designer drugs, micro-doses of already known drugs and new doping agents such as "Full Size MGF." According to German public broadcaster ARD, Russian athletes have even been using xenon gas to help improve their performances. All of this is undetectable for the doping testers.

Also not to be taken seriously: The media coverage of the doping cases in Sochi which have come to light. For many days doping wasn't even an issue. Then rumors of a positive test emerged and journalists were all over it.

The story of the "sinner," Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, was recounted, with journalists accepting unquestioned the speculation forwarded by some of those close to her, that a tainted Chinese energy bar was to blame.

Shortly afterwards, the hosts on German public television's coverage of the Games were only to glad to turn "back to the sports ... "

Moral responsibility ignored

Doping? According to IOC officials, this has nothing to do with sports - neither does environmental destruction, locked up activists, police violence in front of Olympic venues, homophobic laws, exploited migrant workers or total surveillance by the Russian secret service.

The list of justified criticism of these games is a long one. But the IOC closes its eyes in the face of what was set into motion to make this great sporting event possible. Those who turn over billions of rubles while refusing to take responsibility for the negative consequences - not even moral responsibility - are really not to be taken seriously.

So why does the Olympic illusion work so well? Quite simply: The product the IOC offers is so good and in such high demand that any serious criticism is undermined from the get go.

The images of Germany's Carina Vogt in tears after her surprise gold medal in ski jumping, or spectacular jumps in freestyle competitions, or speedskating races decided by hundredths of seconds, or last-minute comebacks in ice hockey, all offer sports fans incredible thrills and drama.

Olympic gigantism here to stay

This means that in the future, the IOC will be able to take the Winter Olympics to other new non-traditional but wealthy (winter sports?) regions. This Olympic gigantism isn't going anywhere.

IOC President Thomas Bach has described Sochi as an excellent Olympics. He's right - if you focus only on the sporting competitions themselves. Nobody cares about all the rest of it anyway...

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