Two weeks of winter games are drawing to a close this Sunday, and we should all expect plenty of retrospectives over the weekend. With ample coverage sure to be given to Ted Ligety’s win (and, we think, the robbery of Yuna Kim’s gold – did judges see her performance?), we’re hoping a portion of the press’ review will be given to Sochi’s Olympic brand as a whole. No, not in regards to the now infamous twitter handle @SochiProblems – which has more followers than the Olympic handle itself – and the arguable bungling of the Olympic Village construction, but of the ethical, and PR-related, implications of the host country’s human right’s record, which is highly questionable at best.
The impending Opening Ceremony amplified discussion of Russia’s institutional homophobia, systemic political suppression, and poverty. Following the country’s recent ratification of draconian anti-gay laws, many world leaders – President Obama included – opted out of a visit to Sochi. Nadya Tolokonnikova, and other activists and celebrities, called for a boycott of the games (and while we’re on Pussy Riot, one can’t help but see Nadia’s early release from a politically motivated prison term as a pitifully transparent ploy on the part of the Putin administration to curry international favor in advance of the ceremonies).
@SochiProblems co-opted what could have been a more productive conversation to clearly delineate Olympic brand values – we know what the games stand for in the broad sense, but what won’t they stand for? Several articles following the opening ceremonies began this discussion, including this one in Branding Magazine, which went so far as to call the International Olympic Committee’s decision to have the games in Sochi “mismanaged” while claiming potential damage to the Olympic brand.
We’re not too sure the Sochi games will have all that negative an impact on the Olympic brand as a whole, which is far too large an international symbol at this point to allow any individual bungle to besmirch the name, or the idea, for that matter (the Olympic brand has endured hypocrisy before –think Berlin 1936, for instance).
Having said that, there were many redemptive elements from the chorus of competing nations that added positive value and spirit to the overcast of controversy. Think Germany’s Opening Ceremony uniforms, an LGBT-friendly rainbow color-scheme. Maybe the message to be gleaned is that, on so grand a scale, no one bad egg can spoil the whole carton – even the host nation, it would seem. Unless they went really out of their way. But that’s not letting the IOC turn a cold shoulder to calls to delineate and implement higher brand standards.