Monday, March 10, 2014

Sochi 2014 Winter (Para-)Olympics Blog - From One Beginning and End to Another Beginning and End

My, what a difference three weeks make…

With the Olympics, politics are not supposed to be front and center, but sports and the idealism of peace, unity, and cooperation are. For all of the security, political, social, and domestic concerns, for two and a half weeks, all was right in the little globe of a world. Athletes from many different nations and cultural backgrounds competed against and intermingled with one another with nary an issue or grand controversy, with everyone appearing to have enjoyed themselves. IOC president Thomas Bach has emphasised that the Olympics showed that, indeed, peace is a tangible thing and the Games are a prime example that that can very much be grasped.

But then, reality came knocking on the door.

What Bach spoke of was more out of what could be than mere naivety, but even in the twilight of the big party, the old specter of strife began to peek through. Ukraine was in the midst of a fluid change in government, with the upset citizens sending its erstwhile, corrupt president running as they sought out a new and better future, one not under the auspices of the Russia he favored. The conflict was clearly on the minds of the gold medal-winning women's 4x6km biathlon relay team, of which seemed to take precedence over their performance. They at least hoped it would brighten the spirits of their people, though there was a certain level of irony of them winning the event on Russian soil…

That was Friday, February 21, and today, it is Monday, March 10th. Russia has been encroaching on Ukrainian soil via the pro-Russian peninsula of Crimea, under the pretext of "protecting Russian-speaking citizens" there and by request of the country's ousted leader (a proposed change in the national language to solely Ukrainian played a role in the unrest, though that law never came to being). With the situation rapidly changing each day, with everyone from Russia and Ukraine to the western nations of Europe and the U.S. being on edge, and the conflict literally being one errant decision and single trigger pull away from turning into a disaster, it makes one wonder this: what happened to all of that goodwill and togetherness that was experienced in those 2 1/2 weeks in February? So many went into Sochi with terrorism and social & political unease in the backs of their minds, and now we have gone from that to the Cold War 2.0 and general unease in the whole Northern Hemisphere staring them right in their faces.

The great (and maybe least-surprising) irony in all of this is that much of this is Russian president Vladimir Putin's doing. NATO/UN may have exasperated matters years ago when it expanded its jurisdiction so close to an unnerved Russia, but that and the convenient rationale and false statements should not give Putin a free license to do whatever he pleases. It flies in the face the more-welcoming, peace-oriented front he erected a few weeks ago, though now, the actual genuineness of that may have finally been revealed.

Now, we are just two nights removed from the opening ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. Great as the festivities were, there was also a slightly jarring sense and one of disappointment in seeing the congregation and celebration taking place in Russia under the ever-watchful gaze of Vladimir Putin. Perhaps it was indicative of the ultimate truth of intended spirit of the Olympic Games--in all of its hopes and its aspirations-- against the hardened walls of reality, as peace and unity is being stressed in a country and by a leader that is currently perpetuating anything but those things, and yet are, all the same.

In the meantime, I hope to provide some kind of coverage for the Paralympic Games, which is being expanded from previous years but at 52 hours of coverage for the ten day event, it does not sound very encouraging, though time will tell. It was bad enough that they did not provide a rebroadcasting of the OC on network primetime (previously shown live on NBCSN, Friday), but then they relegated it to a truncated hour-long replay Saturday afternoon (which itself may have had only 30-40 minutes worth of footage from the original 2+ hours event). Additionally, while there are live (early morning) and daytime rebroadcasts, there are no primetime ones to speak of. The expanded telecast hours and ease-of-access are a much-welcomed advancement, but not giving the big spotlight to those disabled athletes like NBC does with the more able-bodied Olympic athletes is doing a serious disservice to them, which negates some of that expanded goodwill in some regards.

Regardless, I at least hope that I can give them some of that spotlight here in HardDoor's (rechristened?) Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics Blog as I watch these Games. I'll also be continuing to keep a close eye on the Ukraine crisis, though I don't believe I'll be addressing it too much beyond this entry, at this point. Thank you to everyone who has been reading HD's Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Blog thus far (and through the delays…), and I hope that you will continue to join the blog as we go through these Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games.

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