For the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its media and advertising partners, there's simply too much invested in Russia at this point to even consider relocation. And for the soulless IOC, there's ultimately only thing that really matters: The $50 billion Russia has spent on these Games so the Olympics could have another dazzling host city. Everything has to be new, new, new, and Vancouver is old -- Olympic officials will have little to say about Putin's persecution of gays, just as they were mum about China's godawful human rights record when the Games were in Beijing in 2008.
If we can't move the Olympics, we should boycott them, right? Well, actually, that seems to me an unfair burden to place on amateur athletes, most of whom toil in obscurity and without adequate remuneration for all but two-and-a-half weeks out of every four years. The Olympics -- just getting there, let alone winning a medal -- is the pinnacle of the amateur athlete's career, and they should just give that up? Olympians ask us for so little (which is good, because that's all they're getting) it's wrong to take this away from them.
Still, Russia can't be allowed to get away scot-free -- something must be done. But if the IOC won't do it, and if amateur athletes shouldn't have to do it, who's left?
If only there existed a group of athletes who were going to Sochi to compete but were actually highly paid professionals, not amateurs. Maybe we could ask them to sit out in protest, and it wouldn't be as big a deal as if we asked real Olympians...
The NHL should boycott Sochi.
The players don't need the medal money (the minimum NHL salary for the 2013-14 season is $550,000; a gold medal is worth $20,000 from the Canadian Olympic Committee). And the league doesn't appear convinced it requires the exposure, since this may very well be the last time it partners with the IOC.
It's not to say hockey players don't derive some national pride from donning their country's jersey (indeed, if the NHL were to boycott Sochi, one would expect a whole bunch of Russian players to abandon the league for the Olympics and, then, the KHL) -- only that they probably shouldn't be there in the first place and probably won't be for much longer. Besides, the time difference is a pain to adjust to, the Olympic break stretches the NHL season too long and the television ratings won't be anywhere near what they were in Vancouver.
Yes, NHL hockey is the best thing going at the Winter Olympics -- winter or summer -- and it'd be a bummer not to have it. But we could still have other hockey at the Olympics: Let the juniors play. What they should really do is move the world junior tournament from December to February, but if that won't work, let them play twice -- it's not as if we won't go bonkers again. The hockey would still be good, and the players would actually be amateurs (or at least not yet multimillionaires). We'd still watch, and, if Canada won, we'd still celebrate as if it were the greatest thing in the world.
The people who run the Olympics like to tell us Olympic competition is sport in its purest form, and that amateur athletes are its noble competitors -- that's a marketing tool, sure, but it's also a fairly honest assessment of the honour and grace, not to mention dedication, of amateur sports, and it's good to be reminded of that from time to time. These athletes work too hard for us to ask that they forgo their 17 days of glory.
As for Putin and his supporters, it goes without saying honour and grace are nyet in their vocabulary. But honour and grace are too often also missing from professional sports -- blunted by celebrity and branding, and lots and lots of money. Here's an opportunity to change that, to show professional sports can have a social conscience. Sochi's as good a place as any to start.
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