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Thursday, February 06, 2014 

The collusion and complicity of the IOC.

Is there a more ridiculous and self-evidently false bromide than the one that claims politics and sport don't mix? We seem to now have a biennial media battle between the hosts of the World Cup/Olympics/Winter Olympics/European Championship, FIFA, UEFA, the IOC and the various malcontents, protesting over either the exorbitant cost of staging the showpiece event, the abuse of those who built the facilities, alleged corruption, or the human rights situation in the country in general.

With the Sochi winter games every single one of these issues has come into play. Costing a staggering £31bn, or not far shy of 3 times the amount we pumped into London 2012, with almost the entire resort being built from scratch, billions have almost certainly been creamed off, to little apparent concern from the IOC. Despite this, and while it seems the athletes' accommodation is befitting of the no expense spared philosophy from the Russians, journalists report their hotels are unfinished and unfurnished, the staff not always particularly helpful either.

Something the IOC could not predict was Putin would choose the past year to sign into law the kind of antediluvian anti-gay legislation designed it seems to wind up the West as much as position himself as a defender of traditional values in the face of metropolitan liberalism. Think Section 28, only with even more transparent emphasis on linking homosexuality with paedophilia and you're pretty much there. When you have Putin himself and other officials all but saying gay men are desperate to inculcate innocent children in depraved sexual practices, you might have thought an organisation which in its charter decries discrimination would have had made a more substantial stand than it has.

The reality is that the IOC has been hand in glove with Putin from the beginning, and could hardly start expressing something resembling independence now.  The IOC forbids competitors from making political statements during the games, including according to the Russians at press conferences as well as on the podium.  This is then written into the contracts of the athletes themselves, according to John Amachei, something only half-denied by the British Olympic Association, who say that they have to balance an athlete's right to freedom of speech with the IOC's own rules.

It's this ever increasing stifling of anything approaching spontaneity or which could be construed as going against the values of either the organisers or the sponsors that has led to the current trend for either developing countries or authoritarian states to be favoured as the hosts for such showpiece events.  South Africa saw the introduction of a short-lived court system to deal with those who transgressed against the various rules and regulations FIFA had set down, while Sep Blatter's monopoly also demands the kind of tax concessions that would shame Vodafone and Amazon.  Brazil undoubtedly deserves the 2014 World Cup, but it's not a surprise it also won the 2016 Olympics.  WIth Russia due to host the 2018 World Cup before it then heads to the kleptocracy of Qatar, with the abuse of migrant workers there already so well documented, the pattern has been well and truly set.

Some of the coverage of Russia's human rights record has nonetheless been over the top, at least when compared to how politicians had far fewer qualms about going to the Beijing games, when China is by any objective measure far more repressive than Putin's Russia.  This said, the pathetic criticism by the IOC's head, who decried the unofficial boycott of the opening ceremony by various world leaders as an "ostentatious gesture", completely sums up the organisation's approach to anyone who dares to criticise their decision making.  Gestures are all that left to those who want to stand in solidarity with the forgotten and abused in Russia, the very people who have paid for the games in the first place.  A boycott would be self-defeating, so what other way is there to express disapproval than in whichever way those taking part can?

One possible solution to the burden placed by major tournaments on host countries is perhaps to follow the example set by the 2020 European Championships, which will see 13 different cities in 13 countries host the games.  While it poses an obvious problem for fans travelling from one match to the next, it will spread the cost and mean just one nation won't become the sole focus for protests.  Whether it's an idea either FIFA or the IOC will look into remains to be seen; one suspects there's far too much for them personally to lose than for the taxpayers of future hosts to gain.

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