After a dismal showing at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expects a different result when Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. On Monday, March 1, 2010, Medvedev mandated that Russian Olympic officials quit or be fired due to placing 11th in the medals table and earning only three golds. Russia’s performance paled in comparison to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, where Russia placed fifth with 22 medals, eight of which were gold.
The Winter Olympics in Sochi is expected to resemble a modern Russia. But as Russia aims to focus on athletes rather than the “fat cat” federations, Russia could also apply such reforms in its government on behalf of the individuals it represents rather than the cronies that crowd the Kremlin and control state corporations.
First, Medvedev can shift from political posturing with calls for liberalization and modernization to action. Since Medvedev replaced Vladimir Putin as president in 2008, Medvedev has called for judicial reforms and promised to improve relations between the Kremlin and nongovernmental organizations. Nonetheless, meetings with civil liberty organizations have failed to stop the murders of human rights activists and journalists.
Show trials with corrupt judges and prosecutors were the justice provided for the families of Anna Politkovskaya and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Athletes and visitors may avoid Sochi due to a lack of fair representation in court if reforms are not enacted.
Second, Russia will have to permit protests and freedom of the press in Sochi, outside of its repressive, state-controlled model. The Winter Olympics in Vancouver experienced a diversity of mass media coverage and protests free of repression. Though Putin is expected to return to the presidency in 2012, Medvedev could enact policy that opens up the freedom of the press to private, non-state companies to print and broadcast views in agreement and in opposition to the Kremlin without fear of retribution. Many media organizations and nongovernmental organizations may boycott the Winter Olympics entirely for fear of the safety of their employees in the face of Russian police.
Third, Russia will need stricter security if it expects attendees of the Olympics in Sochi to feel safe. Sochi is near the Caucasus and Georgia, two regions ravaged by war and violence in the last few years. The only fireworks that attendees will want to see will be in the opening and closing ceremonies as well as in the athletic performances, not in bombings.
Although Russia plans to heal its wounded national pride in revamping its training and organizational structure for by 2014, it also has the opportunity now to start to show the world that it truly espouses freedom of the individual Russian citizen, not just the athlete.
Kipp Lanham is a political communications strategist who has worked on Capitol Hill and K Street as an intern and communications professional. Kipp has been published in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and The Hill. Kipp graduated from American University’s School of Communication with a M.A. in Public Communication.