Policy Alert: Rising Powers Celebrate the Opening of Sochi Olympics
The extravagant opening ceremonies on Friday marked the official start of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, attracting global attention to the world’s most popular sports event and to the political controversies surrounding it. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from Russia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea on politics and the Olympic Games.
Russian leaders and commentators emphasized the successful opening of the Sochi Olympics and its promises for Russia’s future while downplaying criticism against the sports event.
- President Vladimir Putin hailed the opening ceremony. “I think that I would express everyone’s opinion by saying that this show was very bright, appropriate for Russia, and impressive…At the same time, I would like to point out that this is only the beginning.”
- President Putin defended the Olympics as “a great festive occasion…for all sports devotees over the world,” dismissing critics as “habitual Russophobes.”
- The Games’ organizers lauded the Sochi Olympics for welcoming a record-high number of over 50 world leaders to the opening ceremony, pushing aside the notable absence of other state leaders, including those from the U.S., the U.K., France, and Germany.
- Russia Beyond the Headlines asserted that contrary to the popular “myths” about the Olympics, foreign visitors do not need to worry about terrorism, weather conditions, and the persecution of gays and lesbians.
- Ivan Timofeev, program director at the Russian International Affairs Council, characterized the Olympics as Russia’s comeback to “the big game” since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He emphasized the importance of capitalizing on the Olympics’ economic opportunities to spur future growth and improve the country’s international image.
Chinese leaders and media highlighted the importance of President Xi Jingping’s attendance at the opening ceremony for boosting Sino-Russian relations.
- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi lauded President Xi’s visit as a demonstration of his country’s friendship with Russia and its support for the Olympics cause, calling it “the beginning of China’s major diplomatic actions in 2014.”
- China Daily argued that the visit “proved that China-Russia relations have been moving full steam ahead,” opening up more opportunities for trade, cultural exchange, and security cooperation.
- The Global Times argued that in the absence of other world leaders from the U.S, the U.K., France, and Germany, President Xi’s visit strengthened the Sino-Russia relationship, which the paper called, “a significant pillar of world peace and balanced global power.”
- Xinhua commented that Xi’s visit provided “a timely vote of confidence in a close neighbor and friend,” while the Western leaders and media only focus on criticizing Russia because of their “Cold-War mentality.”
Indian media responded to the recent Indian Olympic Association’s corruption scandal that led to a ban on the use of the Indian flag in the Sochi Olympics.
- The Business Standard lamented that India faced “the ignominy of witnessing three of its athletes march without the national flag during the opening ceremony.”
- The Indian Express brushed aside the “hysteria over the missing flag,” urging Indians to focus instead on obtaining medals.
Indian commentators also expressed critical views on President Putin’s political success in the Sochi Olympics.
- The Business Standard bashed the Olympics as “a global window on Russian corruption and inefficiency” in light of its unprecedented $51 billion price tag. The paper also cast doubt on the Games’ benefits to the Russian economy.
- The Indian Express critiqued the Sochi Games as “the stage for spectacular agitation… Global outrage over Russia’s anti-gay and blasphemy law could make this the ‘most protested’ Games ever.”
Japanese news outlets expressed concerns regarding the safety of the Olympic Games.
- The Yomiuri Shimbun argued that “Russia should do its utmost to ensure safe Olympic Games,” noting the looming terrorist threats and tight security surrounding Sochi.
- The Mainichi Shimbun lamented that “it is ironic that this major sports festival that symbolizes peace in the world will be held while security personnel are on high alert against possible terrorist attacks.”
- The Sankei Shimbun argued that Prime Minister Abe must not compromise on the return of all four disputed islands and use the meeting to advance the negotiation.
- Hiroshi Kimura, professor emeritus of political science at Hokkaido University, remained skeptical that Putin will reciprocate Abe’s favor by returning all the islands, because of the domestic conservative oppositions in Russia.
Korean newspapers discussed the diplomatic ramifications of President Park Geun-hye’s absence at the opening ceremony, and the lessons of the Sochi Olympics for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
- The JoongAng Ilbo argued that President Park “has demonstrated a questionable performance in the diplomatic field” by missing the “Olympic opportunity.”The paper noted that all other leaders in East Asia, including those from China and Japan, attended the opening ceremony to advance their diplomatic agendas with Russia.
- The Dong-A Ilbo claimed that South Korea must draw lessons from the Sochi event to ensure the Pyeongchang Olympics’ success. “Korea must use the Russian event as an opportunity not only to improve its athletes’ performance but also to check up what we should do in various fields, including preparation and operation of the Korean event.”