Sitting Out Sochi

I was asked via email if I had any thoughts on this year’s Winter Olympics. The short answer is yes: I’m sitting them out. The longer version is that the unfathomable graft and incompetence and horrible homophobic bigotry that surrounds this particular iteration of the Olympics has massively swamped my usual benign indifference to the thing. Usually I don’t care about the Olympics, but I see them as harmless and don’t mind if they occasionally impinge on my consciousness. This time I’m actively disgusted by them and will go out of my way to avoid them. I’m not going to be entirely successful because I live in the modern world, where unless you choose to crouch in a hole, information will find you. The difference is that the information is going to have to work to get itself in front of me, and I will resent it when it does.

This is the point at which one swans about the need to reimagine the Olympic games, to get them back to their ideal of friendly competition between nations, blah blah blah insert Chariots of Fire soundtrack here, but, come on. It’s too late for that. The Olympic Games are what they are: a floating, rotating boondoggle-shaped shitcake of graft, venality and cronyism, with a spotty icing of athleticism spread thinly on the top to mask the taste of the shit as it goes down the gullet. Barring some sort of active revolution, that’s not going to change. Sochi’s problem is that this time, they heaped extra shit into the cake and skimped on the icing, and what icing it has is also made of shit. You can’t mask the taste. At this point it’s not worth it to try.

So I’m out. The Olympics won’t miss me, to be sure. The feeling is mutual.

112 Comments on “Sitting Out Sochi”

  1. Three cheers for you, Mr. Scalzi! My wife and I had already decided to sit out the Olympics this year, for exactly the reasons you state. It’s nice to see we’re in such good company.

  2. I like one aspect of the Olympics: every two years a hell lot of products get marked with five rings. Those are the products i will try to live without.

  3. I don’t usually watch much live, but I generally pay some attention, reading the sports news and catching clips of highlights. I do this mainly because I do like seeing extraordinary athletes do very difficult things very well, though I’m not willing to hang around for hours watching a screen in hopes of seeing it.

    But not this year, for the reasons you cite.

    Also, the Olympics, and sports news in general used to be the one place where knowledgeable reporters assumed they were talking to knowledgeable fans about the subject of their shared knowledge. Except for a narrow window of professional and college sports, this has been replaced by drooling human interest/features morons of the sort who cover all the other news, so instead of the story of the impossible shot, or “faster than anyone ever has before,” or of “dear god, she makes that look easy, and no one has ever done it before,” or “he has maybe a chance in a hundred to make his way back to a win” ….nowadays we hear about how s/he overcame his aunt’s cancer, has a brother with a disability, goes to a slightly unusual church and sometimes has to answer hostile questions about it.

    For those of us who do like sports, much of the coverage has long ago been replaced by pimping out the athlete’s feelings and relationships as if they were all auditioning for Oprah.

    So to hell with it; the host government is a mess of corruption doing its damnedest to destroy all the work of the long struggle for democracy and every hopeful thing in their culture, and nobody was going to watch the athletic side of things anyway. It’s a great year to sit it out even if you do like it.

    If this Olympics crashes hard enough in the ratings, maybe next time they’ll put some sports on.

  4. Amen. Time to turn off the telly and read some good books for the next half month. Considering what the athletes and their families put the olympian competitors through just to be in the games makes me want to upchuck. Insanity it is. Who remembers the names of prior medal winners a decade down the line? Again, amen.

  5. The Olympics were always something of a nuisance to me as it disturbed my original programing. But that aside I give props to the people who work all their lives to prove themselves for a month of playing games, basically.

    I feel bad for the athletes they just want to compete it’s not their fault that the host nation is an asshole.

  6. Bravo, John, and thanks for this. I’ll be signal boosting this as soon as I get back from the demonstration at the Russian Consulate. I have a new chant to try out; it’s in Russian and translates as “Russia has gone mad. Down with Putin!” (It rhymes, sort of, in Russian.)

  7. In the words of my brother “Yes, but USA! USA! USA!” 8-(

    What astonishes me is that so many pay far more attention to these athletes who risk little more than a broken leg and an ended dream than they do to real heroes, such as the local police and firefighters and the servicepeople coming back from our wars abroad.

  8. The Winter Games were my favorite. I enjoyed the arcane–for me, at least–sports. Luge. Curling. Short-track. I’m a winter person at heart and I just plain liked them. I tended to ignore the politics and other chicanery. The time, I can’t.

  9. I’m with you on this and thinking about how to make an impact. As Martin suggests, (and my 12 year old demands), we’re not buying Olympic-branded products but I’m wondering what else I can do to protest. I’m not going to watch any of it TV, but we’re not a Nielsen family. No news story clicks certainly. NPR is covering it and I plan to write to them and my local station. Thanks for taking a stand and starting this conversation.

  10. Add onto the already stinking cake the poison they are using to try and get rid of all the stray dogs in the area, which one of the exterminators evidently told someone were vermin… No. Just no. I have stacks of DVDs of movies, TV shows, documentaries, and classes from the Great Courses I can watch instead.

  11. I’m going to avoid the games as much as possible, but I have to say I hate having to do so. See, I love the Winter Olympics. I love watching hours of hockey, luge, the biathalon, cross country skiing & just about everthing else. The Summer games bore me,especially track & field events. Really do not care. So I won’t look, but I’m going to resent the hell out of Russia, the IOC and NBC for it.

  12. “real heroes, such as the local police”

    Police are not heroes. They are just people doing a, sometimes difficult, job. And in Canada they are VERY well paid for it.

    As for the Olympics I agree with John. Not having it this year.

  13. I love the Olympics, especially figure skating and gymnastics. I’ve also had the same thought about not watching this year. I don’t want to support the b.s. that’s happening in Russia.

  14. I’ll miss watching curling this year but I can’t watch these Olympics for all the reasons John said.

  15. I’m doing the same thing. For all that I like the athletics of the Olympics, the entire IOC is a boondoggle, and this year is worse than ever (at least on the surface. It may not be actually worse, but they’ve done a really horrid job of covering anything up). I like to see athletes compete and do extraordinary things with extraordinary dedication, and this year all their efforts are being overshadowed by an incompetent (and hostile) host country and an IOC that shows no indication of doing anything about it. {Rio (Summer 2016) doesn’t look too promising, either. although they’ve got the city infrastructure to handle the crowds, which Sochi doesn’t.}

  16. I agree a lot with John Barnes’ gripe about the coverage. I’m old enough to remember when Olympics coverage had a good mix of journalists and former competitors who discussed the events in ways that taught me things that helped me appreciate it all more. It occasionally saddens me to realize that my younger friends can get that only in Youtube clips of old coverage, and like that.

    Throw in the moral awfulness of this particular Olympiad, and yeah, it’s all terribly easy to skip.

  17. I have friends who are Very Into The Olympics and I really don’t understand. I treat it the way I treat other fandoms I just plain can’t get into, which is to say I’m glad they’re having fun with it, but have no interest in sharing that with them.

    I’ll admit to being a little perplexed that reporters care more about their hotel rooms than about the human rights issues, but I occasionally wear clothing from countries with laughable labor laws, so I really can’t judge them too harshly for not boycotting.

  18. I confess to taking some guilty schadenfreude from the whiny members of the media, upset because they’re not living as gods in the best hotels on the planet, but I’m fully as sick of the myth of the Olympics™ unifying the world as I am of being told “to embrace” this awful winter we’re having. I’m about a dozen stories behind in my Doc Savage reading; time to catch up with the Man of Bronze.

  19. John don’t boycott Sochi. This stuff is so bizarre we need to see you blog about the stupidity. The public needs you John. You would do a public service.

    There was a CNN story that said the Russians may be poisoning stray dogs.

    Re-tweet these…

    if your blocked by the paywall, go to google news and google ‘washington post sochi’ you get through the paywall from google news.

    ESPN showed a stall with 2 toilets in it and toilet paper on only one wall…. You can’t make this stuff up. I can’t turn it off. Its GREAT TV. The Russians are laughing stocks.

  20. @David Gustafson: dude there is a stall with 2 toilets in it and toilet paper on one wall. I know its cold where you are, but does your family really warm up that way?

  21. As John Barnes said – I like watching the athletics but spare me the sob stories. The best coverage I’ve seen recently of the Olympics was last year for the summer games here in the UK. Not on the main BBC channels, but on the extra satellite channels handling the feeds. Those were great – just the presentation of the events with no announcer blather. More of that please..

  22. graft, venality and cronyism aside…..when the gun goes off it’s all up to athletic performance….that’s what I love most about the Olympics, seeing someone be the best in the world at something & the recognition for their achievements…politics/corruption/bribery/good-ole-boys-club are unfortunate consequences to the grand spectacle of the world event…..but really its when the national anthems are played that it rings true that you can’t stage a bigger event than the Olympics!

  23. @ Annalee: “I’ll admit to being a little perplexed that reporters care more about their hotel rooms than about the human rights issues…”

    I think that reporting is more important than is immediately obvious. At Sochi they have spent enormous amounts of money with little oversight, and they don’t even care enough to give the reporters pleasant hotel rooms! If you’re not bribing the press, which is basic to any cover-up publicity effort, what else have you gotten wrong?

    This isn’t a little slip-up. This is “FUCK YOU” on a massive scale. I suspect the entertainment value of watching this particular Olympic Games degenerate into a state of shambling Lovecraftian horror, complete with an incompetent faux-Cthulhu wearing a fright-wig and red rubber nose, will be well-worth the price of admission, at least for those of us who won’t have to experience it first-hand.

    I just hope they don’t beat the crap out of any Gay athletes.

  24. I’m completely ignoring the Olympics this year (if I can). I usually watch figure skating, but for all the reasons stated above, I just can’t bring myself to care about any of it this year.

  25. Agree about your assessment of the Olympics. It’s become as corrupted and greedy as professional sports like FIFA’s World Cup or UEFA’s Champions League. Unfortunately, I’m as much a fan of football as ever.

  26. “graft, venality and cronyism aside…..when the gun goes off it’s all up to athletic performance”

    Well, sorta. We’ve known for years now that the sports where there’s any subjective criteria are corrupt and that the partisanship in scoring is a cultural punchline. So if you can ignore the actual results and just enjoy the skating, for example, great. But the faux competition grates on my nerves and gives the knowledge of the money in the background room to edge its way into my brain.

    I feel like the only difference this year is that nobody put the pretty icing on over the shitcake to disguise how rotten the whole thing is. If the IOC wasn’t so slimey I’d largely shrug it off as something that other people really love but that doesn’t appeal to me, but instead I feel like the Olympics have become something that causes a net cultural and financial harm.

  27. @John Barnes: I agree. I am a big american football fan. I get frustrated with how much the announcers dumb down the game. People tend to be fans for decades we can figure stuff out. I’d really be interested in more technical details of game planning. A few years ago there was talk about what happened to the Giants offense line. Why is it so bad all of a sudden. One announcer said the line had trouble getting to the 2nd level. This is interesting. Never heard a broadcaster mention that. The other broadcasters laughed at him for mentioning that much detail and changed the subject. All the 2nd level means is your line can block guys beyond the defenders at the line of scrimmage and this is what opens up longer run plays. That isn’t exactly complicated… Its also really interesting.

    I was listening to an interview with Joe Montana and the interviewer asked him what is different today. He mentioned that QBs today have more freedom. This is interesting! What does this mean? I know the 49ers used to script the first 15 plays and run them in order regardless of situation. I think Montana was referring to the ability of QBs to day to call their own plays and audible. So Bill Walsh did not let the great Joe Montana audible?

    The interviewer then immediately changed the subject and asked Joe to tell some story he had told umpteen many times. That was really lame… I hate that.

    People can figure this stuff out. No we can’t go to the level of detail of someone who works in the sport for decades but give us more.

  28. I’ve just discovered the word cronyism. Useful, that one. Too bad we don’t have any real equivalent in French !

  29. My suggestions for improved Olympic Games (winter and “real” versions):

    1. No team sports. Only sports where individuals compete against one another. This will eliminate a lot of boring watching and get back to the original point of the games. The Greeks had another word for team sports: they called it “war”.

    2. “Real” version athletes compete naked. Hey, you want tradition, have we got tradition!

    3. Winter version athletes wear identical outfits, without sponsor logos, etc.

    4. Athletes from every country are trained to the lowest common denominator. No more American or Western European athletes with multi-million-dollar training regimes versus athletes from poor countries whose villages pitched in to buy them a pair of running shoes.

  30. I basically wrote off the Olympics over a decade ago, and have only become more disgusted at their execution since then. But it’s nice to have more company.

  31. “The best coverage I’ve seen recently of the Olympics was last year for the summer games here in the UK.”

    I’ll second that. I watched the summer games in Dublin, Ireland, and was absolutely amazed at how much better the coverage was than what we get in #1 in All Things ‘Murka. I was also amazed at the attitudes about it from the Irish. They were absolutely proud of their athletes and their performances, but you didn’t see the over the top Jingoism that you see here.

    Ireland took five medals. Four boxers and a horse. Drinkin’ and fightin’!

  32. I have hated the Olympics since they gave up the conceit that they were amateur events. That said there are opportunities to see events I personally love that are not easily available at any other time. Luge, bobsled and, for me most particularly, womens ice hockey – when its US/Canada its better than the mens game but it get no respect because there are very few thugs & fights just do not happen (the brawl after the US/Canada game in December was an aberration caused by a couple of ladies on both teams who want to engage in that sort of crap – it won’t happen in Sochi)

    So I will DVR the event I want to see, fast forward through the 3000 commercials that will be in ever hour of broadcast and try to ignore the ugly graft and corruption that made it possible.

  33. John, I agree with your comments right down the line. I have children, family members, and friends who are gay and celebrating an event held in a place that is brutalizing and killing people just like them is not on my agenda.

  34. I curl, so the Winter Olympics are the one time of year America remembers my sport exists. So I’m not going to skip televised U.S. curling.

    And on the other stuff, it’s fun to watch the train wreck. Say what you will about Chinese oppression and human rights violations, at least they can organize an event!

    Even the athletics may not be immune to the disaster. There was already a problem in the downhill training today when the pacesetters, unable to ski anywhere near as fast as the athletes, didn’t realize that the last jumps were too big. They had to remodel the course after the 3rd woman skier down injured both knees landing a ridiculously long jump.

  35. Winter Olympics are usually my favorite, but I’m not watching (or reading) this year. When Russia was chosen, I wondered about the graft situation, since Russia (I’m a passionate amateur on the subject, studied the language for 4 years, still stay abreast of current Russian events and news) is an absolute sewer of corruption, these days, but the IOC threatening athletes who speak out against human rights abuses was what really put me over the edge. I feel really sorry for the athletes, their families, coaches, and teams, and I hope some of them speak up despite the risk, but I don’t expect it.

    Vague disclaimer: Back in the 20th century, I made the short-list for an exhibition sport–karate. I’ll never know if I would have made the US team, because I was injured, and spent the next year in physical therapy, working my way out of a wheelchair. Had I not been injured, I don’t know that I would have even noticed if there had been some sort of fooforaw around the Games. Between school, training and practice, trying to have friends, and my after-school job (which paid for competitions, travel, etc.), it’s not likely, so I’m not going to judge this year’s competitors for not doing or saying something that I probably wouldn’t have done myself, even though I’m queer.

  36. A couple of notes I gleaned from other reading:
    “Cleaning up the place” happens with all Olympics. That can mean strays are euthanized, homeless people are rounded up, a lot of unhappy stuff. This is not unique to Sochi.
    Its not just the media that have hotel issues. Early arriving competitors are finding lots of problems with their rooms and facilities. Apparently some have been told not to even wash with the water let alone drink it. There are unfinished rooms and poorly finished rooms with leaking plumbing & exposed wiring. All Olympics flirt with disaster given the size of the project but these guys have the opportunity to severely sicken some competitors – THAT will get some attention.

  37. For the winter olympics in one of the early years when I had my TiVo, so probably 2002, I set it up to record just Biathlon and Curling, which were normally on in the wee hours. It was by far my favorite olympics ever because those sports didn’t warrant the budget for the big human interest productions. They just had commentators who were knowledgable and passionate about the sport they were covering and who wanted to pass on their knowledge and passion to their audience. If that’s what the olympics was always like, I’d be a huge fan.

    And I just noticed the teeny, tiny smiley face at the bottom of the Whatever page. Has that been there for a long time?

  38. Curling…. Now there is a sport that is interesting to watch and except for Olympics otherwise goes unnoticed. I hate those sports that are subjective (Ice skating, dance and all that crap). I prefer sports that are not left up to a judges interpretation as to who is better.

    As for human rights, etc. I am all for it, but if I boycott everything that violates what I consider human/civil rights I will find it hard to be entertained, shop, eat, etc.

    But people (including me) have their passions whether it is gay rights, right to life, animal rights, etc etc. To each their own.

  39. Can’t stand it. Won’t watch it. Have been bugging “sponsors” to say something, anything, about the human rights issues, esp the anti- LGBTQ bigotry. I was pleasantly surprised when AT&T, of all companies, spoke up.

    Now I hear the Russians are killing dogs that were abandoned by the people whose homes were bulldozed to make the venues. This is wrong in so many ways that I can’t begin to parse it.

    The sole saving grace – a tiny personal thing so small it doesn’t make anything better – is after Coke’s weaselly response to the arrest of a gay human rights protestor ( I’ve finally been able to muster the will to quit drinking Diet Coke.

    I am annoyed that business and governments hijack a bunch of athletes for the sole purpose of making money and points. Take away the “national” aspects of it, and the corporate angles, and I might watch — oh, but then it wouldn’t be on TV. So never mind.

    Thanks for your stand on it, Scalzi, and for the ranting space.

  40. Frankly: It’s a pretty common thing for social change to start with disgust at an outlying case, and then spread later to the realization that the norm it’s attached to needs change too, particularly if the number of extreme cases keeps growing. Comprehension isn’t an all-or-nothing thing, and we’ve all got input percolating slowly through our awareness.

  41. Saw an article in THE GUARDIAN about a letter of protest signed by “over 200 writers” (all mainstream types like Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Franzen(! – aka, “The Harlan Ellison of Mainstream Fiction”).

    Read the story to Tammy and she said, “Well, I wasn’t invited to sign!” – which had me wondering WTF they didn’t ask genre writers…?

  42. “(the brawl after the US/Canada game in December was an aberration caused by a couple of ladies on both teams who want to engage in that sort of crap – it won’t happen in Sochi)” — Um, no. t wasn’t ‘a couple of ladies who like a bit of the rough and tumble’. There was quite a bit of history behind that brawl. It happened because it was a high hit on a woman who had just come off a concussion, and the hit was made by the same person who gave her a concussion the first time. That’s what caused the brawl to be instigated, not just ‘hey wanna fight’.

    Anyways. As per my standard policy I skip the Olympics, but I’ll miss the stories of the one Pakistani downhill skier and all the other cool little stories about athletes from countries with no winter sports tradition. I always love those.

    Regarding the journalists: Overall the journalists seem to be doing a good job, because everything around the Olympics is actually more interesting. Journalists having all their gear hacked, bugged and monitored is quite the story.

    Someone mentioned that all Olympics have an element of cleaning up the town, and that is definitely true. Vancouver in 2010 was no exception, the world cup in Brazil is horrible, Beijing obviously etc. I’m pretty sure 1994 and 1998 were ok, but those were small traditional winter sports venues and were not a very big deal.

  43. But, watching high tech athletes that live in training facilities (aka laboratories) in our nation cream simple humans from 3rd world nations is one of our few remaining excuses to feel personally superior!

  44. Is there any hope that ministers of some other country are reading all these reports and saying to one another, “gosh, before we set up that Olympic bid we had better clean up our act so our beloved nation doesn’t get all this awful international publicity?”

    Hey, I can dream.

  45. Well, I’m not going to make any special effort to watch. Any exposure I have this time around will be purely accidental. I will miss things like the figure skating – such grace and athleticism, but these Olympics are just too problematic for me to enjoy.

    I think I’ll console myself by going over to YouTube and looking for some videos of Sarah Hughes in 2002. She skated her heart out and, when the big names choked, she took home the gold. I likes me some underdog. :-)

  46. It can only be a good thing for Russia’s future that all the corruption, misappropriation, cronyism, and repression the country has to offer under its current leadership is all over the world’s headlines for the next two weeks. Even the little things the reporters there are complaining about, like non-potable tap water, aren’t just minor inconveniences, they’re clear symptoms of a system broken top to bottom. It’s clear already that the olympics aren’t garnering Putin any glory.
    Nothing about this angers me more, though, than the people wringing their hands over dead stray dogs in a country that kills its dissidents and journalists.

  47. I have several gay friends, and if I lived in Russia myself, Putin might very well find a reason to make me disappear. On the other hand, the 2008 Games were held in China, a country that isn’t exactly known for tolerance and respect for human dignity. But China is making improvements, and Russia might very well do the same. Russia is more likely to improve their human rights situation if we engage them, rather than alienate them. Being in the spotlight for two weeks puts pressure on host countries to shape up their acts. While it doesn’t always work out this way, (see the 1936 Olympics) I feel that the Olympics can do for international relations and human rights what American football did for integration here at home.

  48. OP: “The Olympic Games are what they are: a floating, rotating boondoggle-shaped shitcake of graft, venality and cronyism, with a spotty icing of athleticism spread thinly on the top to mask the taste of the shit as it goes down the gullet.”

    There’s also a negative side.

  49. Bbeck, is that related to the snowboarder who pulled out of the Olympics because of safety concerns?

  50. Your feelings seem remarkably congruent with mine. Here’s what I wrote a few days ago:

    My personal stance is for the entire Olympics, but I don’t judge the athletes who participate in them or people who enjoy watching them.

    The Olympics as a body have had issues for quite sometime. They had been known to take bribes for ages, well before the SLC scandal broke. They almost never make the host city money. In some countries the expensive facilities fall into disuse within a few years. They’ve allowed incredibly harmful policies to go on re: gender testing (see Castor Semenya) and they have supported rulings against equality in sports (refusal to let women ski jump, etc). And they don’t really offer a fair playing field. It’s all still pay-to-play. Teams still have to pay to stay in the Olympic Village, and that creates an imbalanced playing field. Teams that are poor often find other housing and transportation and suffer for it. (Example: The Belarussian hockey Team, the Minsk Miracle team, at the SLC Olympics stayed outside of the city and couldn’t afford nice meals, so many of them were eating mac and cheese, and thus they’d come in strong, but lose stamina over time.)

    They demand cities do a lot to get the Olympics and do almost nothing to ensure that it will be for the good of the people who have to host. It’s incredibly hard for the average citizen to get tickets, even when its held in their own cities, making most events the provenance of the rich and the world’s elite. Those citizen working the events are not safeguarded–at London’s Olympics, service firms “auditioned” volunteers, made them sleep outdoors, gave them substandard working conditions and corralled them for hours on end. Local citizens are not allowed to profit from the Games, unless they jump through expensive marketing hoops. It’s all marketing BS about these games being for the world. They are an expensive boondoggle and they make a lot of money for a select few.

    None of this means you can’t watch them. My family and friends quite enjoy the Olympics. And I like it when the world cheers for folks. But it does seem slightly weird to bring the world together, and then pit them against each other in contests where money and training make a lot of difference.

  51. Coincidentally, I’m reading a book that makes the point that sports are a great distraction from other concerns of the day, since they crowd real news out of newspapers and TV broadcasts. The Olympics being the biggest sports event in the world, we can expect it to be the biggest distraction. I would pay special attention to what politicians do over the course of the event.

  52. I used to love the winter Olympics… mostly for the sports you don’t get to see much… speed skating… cross country sking, and yeah, curling. I agree with those who have said that the quality of the broadcast efforts has really gone down. They seem to have been pitching the games to folks who don’t like sports at all. What pushed me over the edge though, was when they stopped being amateur sports. Yes, I know some of the eastern bloc countries cheated, but it WAS cheating. Now we have stopped that kind of cheating by making it the rule.

    But this year, I will actually avoid the games, rather than just ignoring them. Giving the games to Russia seems to be an announcement that what was financial cheating is now to be the rule. Add to that the human rights abuses there… and I am feeling really good about not watching.

  53. I think the “big sporting event” is a concept of the past, unfortunately. You either have these kinds of events at locations where they have other problems (the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this year) or at locations where they have no real interests in sports, where they have no history, no infrastructure or not the right climate: the Olympics in Sochi, and the FIFA World Cups in Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022. All of these choices were jokes. Let’s have the NBA finals in Pyongyang next year!

    Any cadidancy for a big sporting event in a democratic country will fail, because people will oppose. Perhaps it’s time to retire the Olympics.

  54. Not even the enormous potential for schadenfreude could induce me to watch it. What we know about the organisation and readiness levels in Sochii leads me to expect a full blown clusterfiasco, but my eyes and dollars will be elsewhere.

  55. I went to the demo at the Russian Consulate. Bunch of people across the street holding a giant rainbow flag with slogans on it; people walking back and forth in front of the Consulate itself carrying signs with more slogans (some of them in Russian) and shouting still more slogans (all in English). I arrived too late to get a sign, so I just joined the line and shouted along.

    About two thirds of the way in they stopped and some guys held up an Olympic™ banner while a guy in a paper Putin mask drenched it in fake blood. Then we went back to walking and chanting until it was time to go home.

    RTV was there. I don’t know what they said, because my Russian isn’t that good. I expect something to the effect of “look at these Western perverts trying to impose their corrupt values on the purity of Mother Russia.”

    I did check the Russian of my chant with a native speaker (and extremely attractive young man who was handing out flyers asking people to protest the attacks on Russian LGBT youth websites). So I’ll be printing that out and handing it around at the next demonstration.

    The NYPD was there in force, of course. They were fundamentally on our side, though of course the “one in every crowd” had to get into a pissing contest with one of the cops who was just trying to make sure we didn’t block the sidewalk. It didn’t go very far. I almost yelled at him to shut up, but the cop was well-trained and walked away once the guy was clear of the “clear pathway.”

    TheMadLibrarian, Shaun White pulled out of one event because the track was too unsafe. IIUC it wasn’t the halfpipe, and he’ll still compete in that.

    But think about it. Too dangerous for an extreme-sports guy.

  56. Sounds like a law firm: “Graft, Venality & Cronyism. How may I direct your call?”

    I have never bought Olympics-branded merchandise, nor do I watch NBC except for local late news. But if I did watch the Olympics it would be to take note of the advertisers and avoid buying their products.

  57. I usually ignore the Olympics, but I am in support of those who want to boycott them this year.

    However, a former student of mine who lost her leg in a motorcycle wreck has made the Paralympics Snowboarding Team and is going to Sochi. I will root for her and her sport (although I won’t be watching).

  58. Having read Andrew Jennings 1996 book The New Lords of the Rings: Olympic Corruption and How to Buy Gold Medals many years ago, I’ve been contemptuous of the whole Olympics ‘movement’ ever since.

    I too will be actively avoiding the goings-on in Sochi.

  59. Here’s my take on the Sochi hotels. Effectively, they were built yesterday. They’re temporary, i.e., disposable. Sewage winds up, not in a sewer, but in a leachfield of sorts. No problem; they’ll be demolished after the Olympics.

  60. USA broadcasting of any and all sporting events outside of the Big Four — baseball, football, basketball, and hockey — is dreadful and has been dreadful for at least the last 30 years. We were in Italy in 1987 for the World Championships of Track & Field and were astounded by the breadth and depth and expertise of the coverage over there. Here, as somebody else noted above, it’s all upchuck and personal about some good-looking athlete’s aunt fighting cancer — or it’s “Look, the American came in 17th in this race!” while totally ignoring the world champion because he or she came from Slovenia or Botswana. The jingoism is worse than the ignorance. As for this Olympics, well, it can’t be worse than 1936… I hope.

  61. I both hate and love the Olympics. I hate the corruption, the inequalities between the athletes’ training and support and I am particularly disgusted by Russia’s politics on LGBTQI issues. On the other hand, my sister was an Olympian. I know how hard she worked and what she sacrificed to get there (and no, she didn’t get millions in support, also she’s Finnish, not American). Not supporting the athletes is pretty unthinkable for my family. Also, I love watching the Olympians do such amazing things.

    So I won’t be doing anything online connected with the Olympics. I won’t buy anything Olympic. I’ll ignore the commercials and most of the commentary. But while I respect the decision many are making to pass on the Olympics, I will watch them and cheer on the athletes. Particularly those from countries with small teams and fewer resources.

  62. @originalsurtac: That was actually Jennings’ second book on Olympic skulduggery: the first, The Lords of the Rings, co-written with Vyv Simpson, was never reprinted after IOC head Juan-Antonio Samaranch successfully sued them for libel (in Switzerland, where libel suits are virtually indefensible.) Worth digging up. (Also covers a certain amount of similar nastiness in FIFA and the World Cup.)

    I wish all the athletes well, but I’m skipping this one.

    (Ironically…anyone else remember how pissed everyone was at President Carter for pulling the US out of the Moscow Olympics?)

  63. If I watch any of it, it will be on the CBC (Canadian) which I get on my cable. They actually show the sports rather than the ‘human interest’ stuff. At least more than NBC will, which isn’t saying much.

  64. When I got home this evening, my wife had it on (I guess it’s sort of started even though opening ceremonies haven’t happened yet), and I will have to say that watching the snowboarders doing their jumps are awfully cool, but now that it’s moved to something else, so shall I. I think the only way worth watching is with a DVR, sound off, and skipping everything except the individual performing the competition.

  65. I still remember the year I was trying to follow a women’s diving event, and NBC had decided that the story was U.S. vs. China – even though the American women kind of sucked (they came in 6th and 8th), and the silver medalist was never ever shown on-screen at all nor acknowledged to exist other than when they briefly flashed up the standings right before commercials, because she was Mexican. After that, I started getting my Olympics news through the BBC website instead.

  66. Normally, I struggle to put aside the graft, the elitism, the nepotistic attitudes, and concentrate on the athletes. In general, these are people who’ve spent the whole of their lives devoted to athletic perfection in one form or another, ofttimes in ways that stunt the rest of their development as living, loving human beings. In a twisted sense, I admire that level of devotion.

    But Sochi…Russia doesn’t seem to care, or at least does not seem to realise how many athletes are gay. And this is one of the biggest decisions of their lives–do these athletes take this chance, and hope like hell they don’t get beaten, arrested, or outright KILLED just for BEING in Russia, or do they sit out in protest, and accept that their chance to be in ANY Olympic event may have wholly evaporated from their first protest on?

    That’s too hard a decision to be forced to make, just to compete. I can’t participate in that. I cannot endorse, watch, support, encourage, or even FOLLOW the Sochi Winter Olympics, because they stand for everything I despise–the stripping of gay rights, the oppression of human rights, wholesale encouragement of violence and blackmail, lying to retain corporate sponsorship, and wholesale slaughter of stray animals around the competition arenas. (And it’s not a far leap for me, at this point, to wonder if there’s also going on a wholesale slaughter–or at least removal and imprisonment–of homeless around the Olympic areas, too.)

  67. My only concern about the quality of the facilities is that it’s likely to be even worse for the paralympians.

    (The Paralympics are better than the regular Olympics, but sadly get squat coverage in the US.)

  68. I’m monumentally frustrated by this entire situation, because I love Olympic hockey — the NHL just isn’t the same, and anyway having moved to Australia, I’m not going to be able to watch those either. So basically I won’t get to see the top form (or, realistically, any form) of one of my favorite sports for at least several years to come.

    I think Olympic hockey, men’s and women’s, is the ultimate form of the sport, and I’ve been looking forward to seeing it for four years. And now I feel morally obligated to not seek it out or watch it, which is frustrating to me for completely selfish reasons.

    I know the entire Olympic movement is riddled with corruption — I know that without ever actually doing more than the most cursory reading on the subject. Besides that, I know that an organization that hands a major competition to a host like Russia, at the moment, isn’t worth trusting. (This is, of course, not even getting into the Berlin Games of ’36.)

    Damn it all. I feel so guilty, honestly, that my moral outrage at what Putin and the Russian government are doing isn’t completely overpowering my desire to watch a freaking sporting event. But I won’t be watching.

    I imagine it’ll be even harder when 2016 rolls around. Olympic hockey is really the only winter Olympic sport I enjoy (although I do like watching curling for the sheer incomprehensibility of it, in the same way that I’ll occasionally watch cricket here in Australia; it makes me feel a bit like an alien checking out the quaint folkways of the native population) but I absolutely ADORE the Summer Games; if allowed, I would take a vacation from both work and family life and spend the duration of the Rio Games watching every event it was possible to watch. And yet the same horrible organization will be putting those games on as the Sochi Games, and anyway it’s not like the Brazilian government’s been doing a fantastic job in their own function preparing.

    Hopefully by then I’ll have gotten over this kind of selfishness and manage to not care that I’m missing out in the name of fairness, equality, and noncorruption. I hope so, anyway.

  69. I saw a list of all the out LGBT people competing in this year’s Olympics™.

    There were six. All women. Yes, all those figure skaters are straight, just like Brian Boitano.

    Can you imagine that openly-gay athletes would get fair treatment from Russian judges? “9.9, 9.8, 9.9, 9.7. and ‘die faggot’ from the Russian judge.”

  70. I agree in general about the Olympics. And I concur specifically about this installment. But given that pretty much every country that’s hosted them is and has been guilty of human rights abuses (including home sweet home), Russia’s excesses are basically the same thing only more so. Which doesn’t make it any better. But the way I see it, every modern Olympics is a kick to human dignity. The only participants I feel a little bad for are the athletes, for many of whom the pinnacle of their athletic, mental and physical challenge will be to compete as icing on a shit cake.

    @ Greg Leon Guerrero

    Agree about your assessment of the Olympics. It’s become as corrupted and greedy as professional sports like FIFA’s World Cup or UEFA’s Champions League. Unfortunately, I’m as much a fan of football as ever.

    As with American pro (and to a lesser extent collegiate and high school) sports, the many systemic problems stem not from the games themselves, but from the shallow, decadent, jaded, unethical, unsportsmanlike, celebrity-worshiping, trademark-enshrining greedy graftocracy that swirls through and around sports on their way down the cultural toilet.

  71. I’m not surprised at the opinions here. It’s all about watching the best athletes of the world compete. Yes, it irritates me when politics enter the picture. Yes, I can delude myself and can ignore all the extra garbage. (Unfortunately I’m watching Bob Costas and the liberties he takes to give us his opinion when he’s a sportscaster; not a newscaster. But I ignore him when he’s talking garbage. Sorry. I got distracted.) I feel sorry for those Olympic enthusiasts who choose not to watch OUR athletes compete. What are you really boycotting? (scratching head) Something to think about.

  72. Well, to answer Lizzie, I’m boycotting THE OLYMPICS — you know, as a movement and as an organization. The athletes I’d otherwise be watching (I kind of resent that ‘our,’ as if I’m required by some kind of patriotic contract to only watch and support the American athletes) — Americans and Canadians and Swedes and Russians (and if the Australians could send a team to participate in Olympic hockey and I wasn’t boycotting), well… yeah, I’d like to be enjoying the fruit of their hard training.

    I’d also like it if the Olympics hadn’t been awarded to a near-totalitarian state run by people with attitudes about gay people that would shame a freaking medieval penitent friar. These things don’t happen in a vacuum.

  73. “Russia is more likely to improve their human rights situation if we engage them, rather than alienate them. Being in the spotlight for two weeks puts pressure on host countries to shape up their acts. ”

    Has that ever actually happened? Because I can’t think of a single example.

    The most impressive bit of idiocy around Sochi was for Russia to accept the Winter Olympic Games and decide to stage them in literally the only place in the country that doesn’t have guaranteed snow in the winter. Think about it: a Winter Olympics in Russia endangered by lack of snow.

  74. I just got my computer back from the shop (had a proper video card installed) and I now have gaming to catch up on.

    My hope for these games is that they’re merely a farce; not a tragedy.

    Also, my real contempt is saved for the IOC and their foolishness; I’ve been studying Russia for forty or so years so I feel no shock whatsoever for how events have turned out.

    Can you say Potemkin Village? I knew you could!

  75. Oh yea, its just about the sport, and the athletes, why politics, why…

    Then I open my newspaper and see that the “banner” for our representation (Spain) has just told the press that gays and lesbian should “repress themselves a bit” during the Olympics because “you have to respect the laws of the hosting country”.

    BULL and SHIT. It never is only about sports. And right now, what I feel about my representatives there is that they shame me by being there.

  76. My general policy is to avoid association with people who want to make any significant thing about me and my life illegal. Russia is now on the list of places that won’t be soiled by my presence, money, or viewership. Frankly, I miss the Daytona 500 (NASCAR race in Florida) a lot more than I’ll miss these winter Olympics.

  77. Yeah, fuck Russia.

    I don’t care for the Olympics much anyway, but Russia makes them interminable. Putin is a jackass, and I refuse to pay him more attention than is necessary.

    Let’s have the next overblown sporting event mishmash in Seattle, instead. Or Denver, if you need snow.

    Wherever it is, it needs to be somewhere where they can cut to live shots of gay pride parades every 5 minutes. And it needs George Takei interviewing the athletes.

  78. Xopher: Where did you get that list? And I’d bet that the Russian judges won’t be allowed to judge openly gay athletes. Just for fairness reasons.

  79. Floored, from Towleroad, here. There are lots of athletes who’ve come out recently (the second list), but not in Winter Olympics sports.

    I wish I thought you were right about Russian judges. But who would enforce that? The IOC is in bed with the Russians on this, and the Russians of course deny they have any prejudices at all. Fairness is not a trait of the Russian establishment, or a goal of anything they do. I don’t think they’ll even judge fairly if they THINK someone’s gay (especially a man).

    BTW, this is the demonstration I was at yesterday. I think I was standing just to the right of the photographer when that first pic was taken.

  80. I understand your stand on the subject, but I still have to support the athletes who work their entire lives for little to no money (most of them never get a big endorsement deal). I respect that commitment to a dream because I could never do it and many of them were probably working toward that goal long before Sochi was ever chosen as a host site. In 1980 many Americans still wanted to go to Moscow to compete because that’s what they do. That boycott destroyed the dreams of many athletes who work and toil in almost complete anonymity.

    Yes, the politics of the situation is deplorable, and the graft is crazy (the installation of a single train line to Sochi cost more than the ENTIRE Vancouver games), but I can still appreciate the performances of those on the ice/track, just like I did in Beijing and like I will in Rio where thousands of poor people were displaced to build monster arenas. The entire process for selecting the host site and putting on the games needs to be drastically changed, but I feel like I can separate that from the competition.

  81. Dave, not watching this time, not buying the products advertised during the games, shunning the logo merchandise—none of that hurts the athletes in any way (well, it might hurt some endorsement contracts, but that’s it). Who it does hurt (to the extent it has any impact) is the sponsors and NBC, and the IOC, all of whom deserve the hurt
    It will help send the message that giving the Olympics to a repressive dictatorship was a bad idea in 1936, is a bad idea in 2014, and will be a bad idea every two years as long as the Olympic movement survives. And it sends that message in the only terms those people care about: money.

  82. Xopher: Thanks for the link. I hope the protest went well.

    Yeah, I’m staying away from everything to do with the Olympics this year. And I’m fine with that. Putin can go get fucked. He’s an asshole, has been for years, and probably always will be. I actually wrote him out of the near-future SF book I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year by having a suspiciously convenient hang glider accident, just so I’d be able to avoid having the protagonists interact with the louse in any way in the Russian Embassy scene. Which was mildly humorous to my friends.

  83. Reblogged this on Jill Elaine Hughes and commented:
    I feel obligated to reblog this post from John Scalzi on sitting out the Sochi Winter Olympics. I too have very mixed feelings about watching, given Putin’s repressionist regime in Russia, persecution of gays, and the outright corruption that led in large part of Putin strong-arming the IOC to giving him the games. (the very thought that a Winter Olympics is being held in a subtropical climate is pretty insane, for example).

    Still, I love winter sports. I live in a frigid climate (Chicago), and live for winter. The Winter Olympics comes only every four years, and several of my favorite winter sports are showcased. It’s my all-time favorite sporting event, and the only time some of my favorite sports like figure skating, speed skating and curling are given so much airtime.

    So I’m rationalizing watching the Games religiously, as I always do, as an objective journalist. I think that we can learn a lot about just how bad and corrupt that Putin’s Russia is just by watching. (The tweets from journalists about how bad the hotel accommodations are is one way to get a birds-eye view of just what happens when graft and repression rule a country—what you get, essentially, is widespread incompetence).

    Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Let the spotlight on these Games hopefully clean up some of Putin’s nasty mess. And if he really botches things, which seems likely, maybe he’ll even get booted from power and things will improve for those who are being oppressed there. We can always hope. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching every triple-lutz and double-cork with enthusiasm.


  84. I agree there are a lot of good reasons to not watch this debacle. I went through my own process on my own blog but despite all the exemplary reasons not to watch, my wife and I will. The bottom line is that I’m a sports fan and despite all the heaps of bullshit, corruption, dog-killing, gay-bashing the bottom line for me is the athletes. A handful will get come big corporate sponsorship (women’s figure skating is always a cash cow for the gold medalist) but most labor in obscurity for four years (NHL players aside). There is a certain human drama that not even NBC and their painful human interest stories can dilute. That’s what I’m on board for.

    So I’ll bite back my rage and swallow my bile. I won’t be buying any products just because they have an Olympic-themed ad. Hell, I think the only big Olympic sponsor whose products we stock up on is Coca Cola (though I notice my can of Coke Zero has no Olympic rings on it). We won’t watch every single event and I hope to get through a backlog of movies, games, and books. But we won’t be boycotting. It’s kind of like the mixed feelings I get watching the NFL, although my disgust for the IOC is far greater than my hate for Roger Goodell (and I do hate that fuckwad). Some day my disgust will overwhelm my compulsion to watch, but not this round.

  85. You know, tomorrow afternoon there will be a men’s gymnastics meet at the local university, a few blocks from where I’m sitting. If memory serves, there will be a women’s meet on Sunday. I can go down there and park myself on some bleachers and watch Olympics-caliber competition (some of our team athletes are always on the Olympics team; Bart Connor and Nadia Comaneci run a school here in town) right in front of my eyes for something like ten bucks. There will be a crowd there, but not as big as you might think.

    (Granted, this is a summer Olympics sport and not winter, but still.)

    I would much rather spend my afternoon that way.

  86. I have watched every Olympics since 1972 Munich, which was traumatic enough that it made me realize adults had no fucking clue what they are doing. I love the pomp and stupidity and have gladly eaten the shitcake…until now. I cannot do this. Beijing was bad, with visibly crappy air quality, and a regime known for suppressing human rights, but this is intolerable. Putin ought to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, not joked about. he incompetence and corruption isn’t funny, the violence is unacceptable. I won’t be watching these Olympics, or supporting the sponsors. I’m sorry for the athletes who wee forced to choose between having an opinion and making a milestone.

  87. Reblogged this on Ryan Boren and commented:
    “Graft, venality and cronyism” is the mirepoix of the Olympics, every taxpayer funded stadium, and almost anything with the word redevelopment in the name.

  88. I’m sitting them out too. My hometown is gone Olympic crazy because we have someone competing but I promised myself before she made the team that I wouldn’t be watching so I’m sticking to that.

  89. I’m old enough to remember the last Russian Olympics (Moscow, summer 1980) and the US-led boycott that occurred back then (as well as the subsequent counter-boycott of LA in 1984). To be honest, for me the Olympics started losing their savour as the information about the corruption and graft at the heart of the selection process became more and more public, back in the mid to late 1990s. I haven’t watched any Olympics on TV since about 2000 (Sydney), and even then, what I saw of the John Clarke and Brian Dawe satire series “The Games” was far more enjoyable than most of the sprots.

    Then again, the TV coverage here in Australia really went downhill when they gave the broadcast rights to the 7 Network rather than the ABC. The ABC (our national, taxpayer funded broadcaster) actually hired articulate commentators who had an understanding of the sport, and knew how to explain what was going on for the viewers at home. If there was a boring patch, they’d talk in a knowledgeable fashion about technical details of the sport, explaining things like rules, differing rule sets, how the scoring was conducted, what the judges might be looking for and so on. Plus they didn’t break in the middle of something interesting and dramatic (such as the 100m sprints final) to show an Australian competitor taking part in the heats for the synchronized dart throwing or similar. The ABC also didn’t tend to default to “inspirational” montages of bits and pieces if there weren’t any Australians competing in anything. Instead, they’d show what was available, and give clear and reasonable commentary on this.

    That said, I probably wouldn’t be watching even if the ABC was covering this lot. The IOC don’t deserve the dollars, the Russian government doesn’t deserve the psuedo-legitimacy and I don’t deserve the fscking aggro.

  90. @Floored

    Putin can go get fucked. He’s an asshole, has been for years, and probably always will be.

    He’s a lot worse than mere asshole. One doesn’t go from ex-KGB hardliner to transitional foreign asset management (sell off Red Army merch much?) to FSB brass (no conflict of interest there) to Security Council sinecure (still wonder what he had on Yeltsin) to the Premiership to de facto President for life without some old school nastiness. He’s like J. Edgar Hoover and Joe McCarthy rolled into one Cuban cigar and let loose in gangland. The guy makes our politicians look honest!

  91. I lived in SLC during the 2002 Games. The spouse’s then-employer was inside the fenced-off area downtown, and as it was not long after 9/11 security was ridiculous: he realized he wasn’t going to be able to get to work well before his employer did, booked vacation time and really cheap plane tickets, and we fled to friends outside London. Watching the BBC coverage was a revelation.

  92. When I was a young person, I felt genuine passion for the Olympics – would Peter and Kitty Caruthers succeed? Would the US men overcome to rule gymnastics? Perhaps it was an after-effect of coming to full awareness of the games just in time for 1980. Either way, I felt invested and passionate about what the athletes – all of them, not just US athletes – had gone through to be where they were.

    That’s faded over time. There’s a wonderful voice-over line at the end of the film “Miracle”, the Disney-fied version of the 1980 Miracle on Ice: “Now that we have dream teams, we seldom ever get to dream.” I think that sums it up for me. So the Olympics have gone by relatively unnoticed by me (and my husband, for similar reasons) for several years.

    This year, however, I have noticed. And I’ve been appalled. The hatred and intolerance that have been the hallmark of these games (from treatment of gay humans to treatment of stray dogs) has staggered me. I was almost ill that my favorite composer was co-opted for the opening ceremonies (and does Putin not realize the Tchaikovsky was almost certainly gay?!)

    I fear that the Olympics have lost what little luster still remained in my eyes. The fact that the OCI sanctioned all of this says it all.

    And @ Gulliver – that’s about the best synopsis of Putin that I’ve seen.

  93. Maybe it’s a game for the young? I haven’t watched the Games in years, but my 24 yr old son is into it in a serious way this year. It’s also the first time it’s really hit home, for him, just how bad anti-gay sentiment can get. Sure, he’s heard me & friends talk about getting invited to go out “gay bashing” back in the 70’s like it was a fucking sport, but it’s different when people upload phone footage of someone getting beaten just for being gay.

    I can’t work up an excitement for the games themselves, but I do like how the message of what it’s like to be gay in Russia is finally getting out there. There’s a difference between actual awareness and fake slacktivist Facebook ‘awareness’, but that doesn’t mean that social media doesn’t help get the word out.

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