The Russians chose a three-time Olympic champion figure skater who tweeted what some consider a racist picture of President and Mrs. Obama last summer to light the torch at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Irina Rodnina’s selection was an obvious insult to the American president and leaves the question of how much contempt Vladimir Putin has for Barack Obama open to interpretation.
Putin is on a clear winning streak against Obama, having bested him on Syria, Iran, and the Ukraine in recent months. When it comes to measuring the influence of world leaders, I don’t know of too many analysts who wouldn’t observe that Putin is on the rise and Obama is on a decline.
But this particular nudge from the Russian president goes beyond politics and hits the president on a very personal level. And the world — perhaps judging Obama as well — doesn’t seem to care.
In response to criticism of the choice of Irina Rodnina to help light the Olympic torch Friday, the CEO of the Sochi Games said Saturday that politics had no place on the Olympic stage.
It has become a frequent refrain of officials associated with the 2014 Games.
Rodnina, 64, a three-time Olympic figure-skating champion in pairs, tweeted a doctored photograph of President Obama last September showing the president, seated at a dinner beside the First Lady, with a banana super-imposed on his image. After removing the image following a barrage of criticism, Rodnina defended her post as her right to freely express herself.
Asked what factors led to her selection for one of the Olympic Games’ highest honors, Dmitry Chernyshenko, CEO of the Sochi organizing committee, noted Saturday that Rodnina was a three-time Olympic champion and among the world’s most respected athletes.
“I want to stress that the Olympics is not about politics,” Chernyshenko said, “and any political talks and discussions are inappropriate for the Olympic Games.”
Asked whether the International Olympic Committee vetted her selection, IOC spokesman Mark Adams: “From the IOC point of view, clearly it is not the IOC that chooses torch bearers. As Dmitry said, she was chosen for what she has done in sport. She is a triple gold-medalist in skating, and she has done a great deal of work for sport, and that is what she was chosen for. But it was a decision that Sochi took, as they did with all of the torch bearers.”
Racism is about politics? Quick! Someone tell Al Sharpton! All this time we’ve been having a political argument about racism, and not a moral argument about tolerance and respect. Got to make a note of that the next time some MSNBC pundit calls out a conservative for being “racist.”
And, of course, both gentlemen above are 100% wrong. The Olympics are all about politics — always have been and always will be. The games drip with nationalistic fervor — even xenophobic fanaticism. During the Cold War, it was accepted that the conflict between communism and capitalism played out against a backdrop of athletes competing for gold.
The hypocrites who make up the International Olympic Committee wouldn’t get their billions of dollars unless they pretended that the world gathered every four years for peaceful competition, instead of rabid nationalistic displays and grasping commercialism of the worst sort. It’s part of the mythmaking that plays a part in the IOC’s cynical manipulation of emotion and appeals to a utopian “brotherhood of man” ethos that doesn’t exist now, and has never existed in the modern history of the games.
Putin’s decision to choose someone whose notorious tweeted picture led to an international outcry is almost too obvious for the Russian president. The very heavy-handedness of the insult shows a total lack of respect for President Obama and the contempt he feels for his American counterpart.