Editorial: Tensions at the Olympics

The Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, are slated to get under way Friday.

If you’re a fan of such these athletic events set on the world stage, then you’re ready for everything from hockey and skiing to curling or the luge.

Or perhaps it’s the glamor and spectacle of the opening ceremonies that interest you.

Unfortunately, this time around, the athletes in these Winter Games have to share the spotlight with forces beyond their control.

We were struck by a recent news headline: “U.S. warship sets sail for Black Sea in advance of Sochi Olympics.” As it turns out, the Navy is actually deploying two warships to the Black Sea for security assistance at the request of Russian military authorities. And they apparently made such a request because there’s a fear that the games, held at a Black Sea resort area near Dagostan, will be the target of terrorists.

These threats could come from groups that Americans are familiar with, say Chechen rebels. But there are other homegrown terrorists, such as the Caucasus Emirate, that have threatened to disrupt the games.

While we may want to think of the Olympics as a holiday from the tensions and strife of the world, we know better. Politics has long been a part of the Olympic Games. When Germany played host to the Olympics in 1936, it afforded Adolf Hitler an opportunity to showcase ideals built upon alleged Aryan superiority.

Ironically, Hitler’s victory party was marked by the feats of Jesse Owens and other black American athletes.

And then there was the Munich Massacre in 1972, during which 11 Israeli athletes and coaches competing at the Summer Olympics were murdered by Palestinian militants.

These are among the most politically virulent moments in Olympic history. But politics also had an impact in the various boycotts that took place in 1976, 1980 and 1984.

Even if terrorist threats don’t amount to anything more than just that, there remains the very real possibility that the personal politics of Vladimir Putin, Russian president and ex-KGB strongman, may color these particular games. His stifling of dissent and his open hostility toward gays has set the stage for considerable underlying tension.

All of these threats are far from the Olympic ideals, of “... building a peaceful and better world through solidarity, team spirit, joy and optimism in sport.”

But the games always take place against the backdrop of what’s going on in the world at that time ... and that’s now likely to be the norm.

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