We Need to Talk About the Olympics

I don’t know if you’ve heard but there’s some small snowsports event coming up soon. The Olympics is going to be rammed down your throat so hard by the world’s snowsports media that you’ll end up shitting multicoloured rings and medals until your arse begins to resemble Clare Balding’s face.

Despite the building and organisation of the event being rife with corruption, all whilst being organised in a part of the world where local people are so pissed off with the Russian government that they are literally blowing themselves up left right and centre, it’s only by actually arriving in Sochi that some people have actually begun to realise that the Sochi Olympics is an omnishables bordering on clusterfuck.

Snowsports media have covered the event with the usual, lapdog approach of ‘oh maybe Terje doesn’t like it but look, look, Shaun White’s there and so are some of ‘our boys and girls’! Lets cover every aspect of it, the clickbait will mean we can sell more adverts!’. Despite a tonne of debate about the ginger tomato, who will do a triple cork and how shit the uniforms are, there’s been no discussion of some pretty fucking big issues that surround the event.

So for a start there’s the two issues outlined above. Reports have been out for years that detail the escalating cost of Sochi and the corruption that’s been involved in the building process. Has anyone in the snowsports world thought about this? Has anyone involved in it even read a fucking newspaper in the past few months? None of Johnnie Balfour’s experiences should be surprising to anyone who has even a basic grasp of what’s been going on in Sochi in the run up to 2014.

This is what happens if you embezzle half of your Olympic budget. Photo by Johnnie Balfour

The second point about suicide bombings is hard to get to grips with in a succinct manner. But let me sum up some pretty complex regional history in a few sentences. Basically people in Chechyna, Dagestan and Ingushetia (three regions in close proximity to Sochi) don’t get along with the Russian government. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Chechnya declared independence. War ensued between Chechen separatists and Russia, and over a 100,000 people died. In 1996 a ceasefire agreement was reached and Russian troops were removed.

Fast forward to 1998 and it all starts going to shit inside Chechnya for a multitude of reasons. To cut a long story short, Russia invades in 1999 and Russia declares Chechnya as being under it’s direct rule in 2000. Since then, the region has been characterised by an ongoing and inherently complex nationalist and islamist insurgency that has spread across the North Caucuses. Russian forces have attempted to crack down on this brutal insurgancy in some pretty brutal ways.

It’s safe to say that the conflict down there goes along the lines of an eye for an eye. It’s the kind of violence that hardly gets a mention over in our safe western bubble. You might associate suicide bombings and human rights abuses with far off places like Afghanistan or Iraq, but it’s happening in a region just a few hundred miles away from the world’s biggest snowsports events.

Sochi in relation to the rest of the North Caucuses. Map by ABC

Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘shit man, that’s deep. But we’re just about the snow and we’re above politics and hate’ and yeah I see where you’re coming from. But the point is, these really, really shit things happen and we can’t ignore how our actions are implicitly related to them. Putin holding the Olympics in Sochi is a massive ‘FUCK YOU’ to the people of the North Caucuses, it’s the equivalent of having the superbowl in Kabul. It’s a way of saying, ‘This place here? This is mine, not yours. And look, the whole world is with me’.

And we are. We’re watching it on our TV’s. We’re playing the fucking video game, we’re playing top trumps and thinking about triple corks without thinking about the ethical implications of our actions. And nowhere is this more so the case, than when we turn to Russia’s shocking LGBT situation; an issue that only Yobeat has briefly touched upon so far.

If you’re lesbian, gay, bi- or trans-sexual the situation is pretty shit for you in Russia. Yet no one in the snowsports world is talking about this seriously or mentioning that this little event in Sochi, our little event in Sochi, is bound up in a web of politics that persecute people for their sexual orientation. Mega sports events are always about more than the sport, and this is our chance to reflect on how we, as a community of tolerance and respect, can make a real difference to the world around us.

But other than Yobeat it seems like Transform Gloves are the only people who know what’s up. Their pro rights mitt is exactly the kind of thing every snowsports company worth their salt should be making. Snowboarding is for everyone, and I hope we see plenty of riders wearing them in Sochi. You can even win yourself a pair here!

The Pro Rights Mitt aka the love glove. Photo by Transform Gloves

To say these political and social issues are too serious to be discussing in our snowsports media is stupid, and to not be having these conversations at all  is even more so. Snowboarding and skiing are about freedom, love and passion, let’s start showing the world that. Let’s start having discussions in our magazines and on our websites about the political and ethical implications of our events, our products and our industry as a whole. And let’s encourage our favourite riders to show acts of resistance towards shitty politics. Like in the 1968 Olympics, lets see our champions throw up a fist for love.

Words by Romberto Curlusuo; overworked, underpaid freelance editor-at-large for The Seasonaire. Founder of the charity ‘writers against the buzzfeedification of snowsports media’.

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