Olympic athletes should not bear the burden of politics

Every two years, the world convenes to celebrate the best every country has to offer at the Olympic games. The athletes spend their entire lives training for sports that go unseen except for two weeks every four years. The biggest, fastest, and strongest in each country train for the love of the game. Except for a lucky few people, these athletes won’t suddenly become household names and make a living off of endorsement deals. The athletes, the true competitors who play for pride and honor — not money and fame — are supposed to be what the games are about.

The Olympics are intended to be the ultimate show of world unity, with countries setting aside conflict and ideological differences to compete as equals. Nowhere else would Israel and Iran walk side by side, but every year, the Olympics become a soapbox for political and economic commentary. Much like China six years ago during the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, Russia wanted to use these games to showcase their country to the rest of the world. Instead, the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics has been ripe with controversy, further solidifying many of the stereotypes the rest of the world holds against Russia.

The most talked-about issue coming into Sochi was Russia’s homosexual propaganda ban. At a time when many countries are slowly moving toward the legalization of same-sex marriage, Russia signed a controversial law banning all forms of homosexual propaganda in an attempt to limit the exposure of the nation’s youth to this immoral lifestyle.

Given the explicit non-discriminatory aspect of the Olympics, this legislation sent shockwaves through many of the major winter Olympic competitors, including the United States. This instance was not the first time the United States and Russia had played out political disagreements in an Olympic forum.

The United States and 64 other countries boycotted the 1980 summer games, held in Moscow, in protest of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. In retribution, the Soviets led a boycott of the 1984 games, hosted by Los Angeles.

What is lost in these instances of politics interceding sports are the opportunities of hundreds of athletes. Many of these athletes trained their entire lives for one moment, one chance to earn the pride and respect of their nation and the world, but had it all taken away because of political posturing.

It’s fine to talk about Russia’s conservative social standards, or the plague of corruption that ran the budget of the Sochi Olympics to over four times its original $12 billion budget, or even the shoddy construction that forced one American bobsled team member to break down his bathroom door when the lock got stuck.

But let’s not forget the true purpose of the Olympics. The Olympics are a celebration of the human race, a display of triumph over nature, pain, and even each other.
Whatever political overtones the media may try to place on these games, the focus should ultimately be on the athletes.

Just try and keep that in mind the next time President Barack Obama has a 30-minute interview during what is being advertised as Olympic Games coverage, or another reporter tweets a picture of a shoddy Sochi hotel room.

These games are about the athletes — a celebration of their life’s work and their chance to earn the pride and respect of not only their nation, but humanity as a whole.