Bread and Circuses: why I’m not watching the Sochi Olympics

I’ve loved the Olympic games since I was a child. Some of my earliest memories are of racing around the house in 1998 during the Nagano games pretending I was speed skating, or plunging down the stairs pretending I was a mogul skier. Mother was not amused.

But like plenty of other things that seemed inspiring and important when I was a child, including the West Wing and Saturday morning cartoons, the Olympics has for a long time now simply seemed saccharine and false. All that tripe about international brotherhood and cooperation, all that false drama and excitement just irritates me now. It’s fitting that such a sugary sweet spectacle should be sponsored by McDonald’s and Coca Cola. It’s the junk food of sports: exciting while it’s happening, but ultimately just garbage that will leave you feeling bloated and sick.

Yesterday the opening ceremonies were broadcast around the world, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t tune in. Not even for five minutes. I may glimpse the games here and there as I go about my life for the next few weeks, as they’re difficult to avoid completely, but I don’t feel any great desire to tune in at all.

I earnestly hope they’re a total disaster.

This is unusual. Even for Beijing in 2008, a games I found almost as repulsive as these, the Olympic spirit briefly descended, and I found myself tuning in from time to time. Vancouver 2010 I felt compelled out of national pride to at least catch glimpses of, though I was living in Britain at the time and they weren’t much interested. London 2012 I felt at least a little obliged to watch. Sochi I honestly couldn’t care less. The figure skaters will lutz, the skiers will ski, and the lugers will luge, just as they always do, but they’ll do so without me to watch. Not that they care.

Except I don’t seem to be the only one. So few people have bought tickets that most of the events so far will have plenty of empty seats.¬†Foreign delegations from other countries are pitifully small and insultingly low-ranking. Indeed, as in the case of the American delegation, they’ve often been explicitly picked to make a point about Russia’s hateful anti-gay law. The publicly visible leaders of the world are staying away.

Perhaps this is because the Sochi games are making explicit what has essentially been true about the Olympics all along. They’re a masturbatory exercise in bread and circuses put on by an arrogant and entitled global elite for our entertainment every four years to distract us from our very real problems. They’re a chance for people like Mitt Romney to enjoy some nice canapes in a convivial setting while watching each other’s horses get put through their paces.

This is particularly obvious at this games. Sochi is an out of the way resort town on the coast of the Black Sea, with nothing in particular to recommend it to the outside world’s attention beyond the presence of Vladimir Putin’s outrageous summer palace, and of those belonging to his tame oligarchs. It’s the closest Russia ever gets to beach weather, making it a ludicrous choice as a locale to host a winter Olympic games. Unless you’re a pseudo-fascist kleptocrat with something to prove. Like Vladimir Putin.

The International Olympic Committee, one of the most morally bankrupt and corrupt institutions on the planet, was happy to oblige. I don’t know who’s palms were greased in order to get the games awarded to Russia in the first place, but I have no doubt they’re good and slimy now.

They’ve cost 51 billion dollars so far: the most expensive Olympics in history. By way of comparison, Vancouver cost about 7. But perish the thought that this might be because of Russia’s endemic and constant corruption. No, Vlady just wanted to put on a hell of a show. Never mind the arrests, deportations, beatings, jailings, and in all probability killings of Putin’s political opponents, Chechen freedom fighters, Muslims, and gay kids. Watch the pretty athletes do their thing!

You may be reading this thinking I’m missing the point. That this is about sport, and celebrating the achievements of amateur athletes. That I should take some national pride in Canada’s performance at these games. Well I could give two shits about the heptathlon, or mogul skiing, or figure skating, or any of the other pointless trained-seal exercises on display here. I don’t spend a great deal of my day worrying about the affront to our national pride if we don’t get a decent medal count. My day will go on much as it would have already regardless of whether Canada wins a certain amount of blue ribbons at this glorified dog and pony show. I don’t even really care if we lose at hockey. (Probably the most heretical thing I’ve ever said, as a Canadian.) Guess what? It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that millions of Russians are suffering under a dictatorial president-for-life, and the international community is aiding and abetting his disgraceful display because it provides a moment’s distraction from their own crimes and follies.

I urge you to tune out this blaring noise as best you can. Focus on the important things. Let the games die.