Not since 1952 in Oslo, Norway, has a host country of the Winter Olympic Games won both the most gold medals and most overall medals during the games. The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, were as successful as they could have been for the host nations, given the expectations and controversial parameters they operated under.
A Russian victory may not have been the biggest concern for President Vladimir Putin, who was under scrutiny for orchestrating the games amid major security issues, for oppressing those who were proponents of LGBT rights, and lastly for the infrastructure hurdles that needed to be overcome in order to deliver the actual events. Having gone relatively unscathed in all three problem areas, combined with taking home the top prize, it’s easy to say that Russia, and Putin, delivered what they promised all along. That promise was confirmed and put into words by International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach who described Sochi as a “really special experience.” Bach continued, “Russia delivered all what it had promised.”
While, fortunately, nothing went wrong over the past three weeks on the Black Sea resort town, there are issues that will linger in Sochi even after the Olympic flame was put out and the spectators vacate the country. Some see this 17-day event as what to expect from Russia going forward, but it’s hard to look beyond the $51 billion national investment into the games and what the long-lasting implications of it will be as Putin continues to bid for international presence in not just Sochi, but around the entire country. Optimism here is welcomed, but should be moderated. “Now we can see our country is very friendly,” said Boris Kozikov, a Russian civilian. “This is very important for other countries around the world to see.”
On the very near horizon for Russia lies the 2018 FIFA World Cup, in which the newly constructed Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi will host. As we’ve seen in Brazil (set to host the 2014 Cup) over the past year, the worldwide football tournament has quickly become nearly as difficult and expensive of an event to host as the Olympics has. It’s likely to not take long before skeptics line up against Putin and Russia over their Cup preparedness and its associated human rights, security and infrastructure issues.
And why might that be? FIFA operates under a very different set of governance than the IOC does. The IOC more or less indirectly abetted Russia’s stance on LGBT rights, having in place the controlling Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which, in essence, prohibits any type of propaganda or political displays during competition. FIFA, on the other hand, is on the opposite side of the fence, being a major proponent of equality and fairness to all athletes regardless of sexuality. And LGBT rights won’t be the only problem in 2018, in Russia, as many soccer players around the world have announced they would boycott the 2018 games if more isn’t done to fight racism in the country. Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure was subjected to racial abuse during a Champions League win over CSKA Moscow in October of 2013. The Manchester City star went on to explain that “It is a real problem here, something that happens all the time, and of course they need to sort it out before the World Cup. Otherwise, if we are not confidant coming to the World Cup in Russia, we don’t come.”
Which means that while Sochi clears out, the athletes return home, and security forces from around the country return to their usual precincts, Putin needs to start building a strategy for the 2018 World Cup. He may very well have a rougher road to success than he faced this time around.