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Foreign experts: Russia held one of most successful Winter Olympics in history

15:26 | 04.03.2014 | Analytic

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4 March 2014. PenzaNews. Representatives of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) praised the organization of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi that ended in a historic triumph for the host country, which won the first place in the medal count. Jean-Claude Killy, the IOC’s chief supervisor of the 2014 Olympics and three-time Olympic champion, expressed confidence that the Games allowed the international community to see the positive side of Russia.

Photo: Wikipedia.org

Photo: Wikipedia.org

“I do not know anyone who was dissatisfied with the Games. This is perhaps the most successful Winter Olympics in history. They completely changed our perception about the level of preparation for the Games in Russia,” he said in an interview with French TV channel BFM.

In turn, Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, stated that Russia delivered all what it had promised.

“I never doubted that Russia would fulfill all the promises, and Russia did it. Sochi had it all: positive atmosphere, friendly volunteers; and it was clear that the competition would be held without any problems. You even surpassed my expectations,” he said.

Thomas Bach also noted that foreign journalists’ criticism was replaced by positive reviews after the success of the Games.

“People got the opportunity to see everything with their own eyes. I already talked about it during my first press conference. I said to all the skeptics: “Come and see. And only after that judge; and do not judge when you saw nothing.” Now they have seen everything, took an open-minded view, saw the success of the Olympic Games, experienced Russian hospitality, and realized that there were the best conditions for the athletes here. That is why you should first come and have a look, and only then – judge, and not vice versa,” the IOC President added.

According to observers, the Olympic Games in Sochi were accompanied by information war even before the start. In particular, foreign media reported about rusty water coming from the pipes of Sochi hotels, mass killing of stray dogs, wolf roaming halls of athletes’ dorm and terrible roads condition.

However, later it came out that the picture of rusty water was earlier used to illustrate the news about poor quality of drinking water in Ukraine, mass dogs killing occurred in 2012 in Ukrainian Donetsk, the wolf video was a hoax shot at Los Angeles studio, and the photo of a walkway leading to the media center was taken in Vienna.

Speaking about criticism towards Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that it was different.

“We have been always working in the conditions of critics, and first of all, it was very friendly and constructive criticism from the International Olympic Committee representatives. However, there was a cohort of critics that are far from sport, they are engaged in a competitive struggle in international politics. They used this Olympic project to achieve their own objectives in the field of anti-Russian propaganda,” he said in an interview with Russian journalists.

At the same time, the majority of foreign athletes and fans praised the level of organization of Sochi Olympics. For example, Nick Cunningham from the US Olympic bobsled team was surprised with the negative comments about the Games.

“C’mon America, stop being ignorant. Get off the negative bandwagon. It’s crazy to me that 98% of the people bad-mouthing the Olympics are people that are not even here,” the athlete wrote in his microblog Twitter.

In turn, Alex Diebold, the US bronze medalist in snowboard cross, pointed out a good quality of ski slopes.

“The course is long and difficult, but I enjoyed it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, who won Olympic gold in the super-G at Rosa Khutor, praised the staff involved in the Games.

“Yet again, all the people, all the volunteers working up there, they’ve done a great job,” he said after descending the track.

Commenting on the results of the Olympics, Edward Lozansky, President and Founder of the American University in Moscow, called the event a great holiday of sports and human spirit.

“Taking into account all the hysteria in the media regarding the inevitability of terrorist attacks, it was not an easy decision to go to Sochi, but people do not regret visiting the city, because it was an unforgettable experience,” he said in an interview with news agency “PenzaNews.”

In his opinion, the organization of any events of this scale is associated with some problems.

“However, according to the athletes and visitors, in Sochi these problems were minor and most of them were solved quickly. But those, who came to discredit games, tried to do everything possible to achieve their goal making a big deal out of minor shortcomings descending to falsehood,” the expert said.

From his point of view, only those who went to Russia without preconceived prejudice and judged by the realities that were on top could see Russia in a new light after the Olympic Games.

“Those who dreamt of disrupting the Olympics or of at least some serious cataclysms were left disappointed,” Edward Lozansky said.

Eric Zillmer, neuropsychologist and director of athletics at Drexel University in Philadelphia, called the XXII Winter Olympic Games held in Sochi a categorical success. According to him, the 2014 Winter Olympics appeared well organized, the performances by the athletes were superb, and the television coverage was a feast for the eyes.

“Besides the Olympic Games there were also the “perception games.” The motivation of an Olympics host country is always to prove, on an international stage, that it is capable, modern and wealthy. In this sense, I believe the Sochi Olympics may have changed and influenced some younger Americans about the “new” Russia. For the majority of Americans, especially the baby-boomer generation, however, the perception of Russia is probably colored by the past Cold War and they are more likely to view Russia as a natural adversary,” the expert said.

In his opinion, the criticism about the Sochi Olympics was very unfair and biased.

“Even before the Games had actually started criticism was leveled towards organizers about the security and preparedness. For some groups in the media and in politics, they obviously did not want Sochi to have its 17 days in the sun,” the analyst suggested.

He also noted that from a historical perspective the Olympics Games always had a political presence as well.

“In hosting the Olympics the host country will also be scrutinized on a number of cultural and political variables that may seem unfair, but they are part of the experience. I do believe that Sochi also passed this test and thus history will judge the XXII Winter Olympics as a success,” Eric Zillmer said.

Hans-Henning Schroeder, head of the Russian Federation and CIS research division at German Institute for International and Security Affairs, also praised the Olympic Games held in Sochi, noting, however, that Russia lacked PR-activity.

“Such competitions like Olympic Games or, for instance, International Football Championships, have two components. First of all, people and the media look at the country where the games take place, and then they look at the games themselves and the way they are organized. I think that the second part was normal but Russia really lost the PR-competition because it was not able to project internationally that Russia will organize nice Games for everyone and it is able to cope with all the problems,” the expert explained.

Speaking about criticism, he said that special attention was paid to the financial component of the Games.

“At least here in Germany people do not respect the Olympics anymore – it is a commercial event that has nothing to do with Olympic idea. And so you can see, for instance, that a majority of citizens voted against winter Olympics in Munich and Bavaria. So there is a great skepticism about these sort of games. But it seems plausible that Russia spent extremely much money for the Olympics. That is at least the impression we got here from our media,” Hans-Henning Schroeder added.

Meanwhile, Alexis McCombs, former talk show host and author of “Girls Guide to Go: Football 101 & The Big Bowl Game,” said that the Olympics showcased the beauty of the country’s landscape.

“One location that stood out was the alpine villages of Krasnaya Polyana where the bobsled and freestyle skiing competitions took place. I was struck by the majestic mountains captured in the backdrop, as I viewed from my television,” she said.

“The games also exposed me to the human side of non-Americans during this historical sporting event. If it had not been for the Olympics, I would not have become familiar with Evgeni Plushenko who won figure skating gold or Adelina Sotnikova, Russia’s first gold medalist in the women’s version of the same sport,” she added.

In turn, Lisa Delpy Neirotti, Associate Professor at George Washington University, School of Business, also said that the Games were excellent. She noted that it was easy to move around due to well organized transportation and security, and the atmosphere with the music and cultural programming throughout the park was great.

According to her, it was not only the good organization but also the friendliness and helpfulness of all the Russian volunteers and citizens that helped foreigners to change their perceptions of Russia for the better.

“We found everyone very nice. I think one of the biggest takeaways for foreigners was how friendly people were,” the expert noted.

In her opinion, criticism was not fair, and problems that took place were not as serious as they were described.

Patrick James, Director of Center for International Studies at University of Southern California, said that there seems to be a lot of introspection about such aspects as perceptions of Russia.

“There is some unintentional humor in Russian interest about how others are reacting. Concerns abroad about Russia relate to weakening democracy and corruption. In other words, good security would be expected for a state under such criticism. So there is no gain there,” the expert noted.

In his opinion, some of criticism regarding Olympics will be politicized because there is a lot of suspicion in the West that Russia is drifting away from democracy and the rule of law.

“I am pro-engagement and see events linking Russia to the outside world are inherently good,” Patrick James added.

In turn, Scott J. White, professor of homeland security and security management in Drexel’s College of Computing & Informatics, noted that his impression of the Sochi Olympic Games is a very good one.

“I think the Russian people should be very proud of their accomplishments and the way they represented themselves to the world. These types of events are fraught with potential problems and difficulties, however, from my observations, it appears that everything seemed to work very well. I was most impressed with the venues, they appeared to meet and in some cases exceed the needs of the athletes,” the expert said.

“With regard to all the pre-Olympic concerns about security, it appears that the preventative measures utilized by the Government of Russia and its Security Personnel, were highly effective in deterring acts of terrorism and violence,” he added.

Speaking about the possibility that Sochi Olympics changed perceptions of Russia, the analyst said that one “would have to have a pre-existing bias towards Russia before there could be a perception change.”

“I have no such bias. However, for those who may have had concerns leading up to the Olympic Games, I think that ones perceptions would have to change as a result of viewing the success of the Olympics in Sochi,” the expert explained.

Commenting on the massive criticism of foreign media towards the Olympics, he stressed that he did not pay much attention to it.

“I think for most of us, who enjoy sports, we are more interested in watching great athletes engaging in exciting competitions. As a Canadian, I enjoyed watching the Hockey and Curling games and I must admit I would have like to have seen a Canada versus Russia for the gold medal,” Scott J. White said.

According to him, the Olympic Games in Russia have to be seen as a success, not only from a security perspective, but also from an organizational perspective.

“From the construction to the security, from the staffing to the entertainment – executing a successful Olympic Games requires a Herculean effort on the part of so many people. I think our friends in South Korea are going to have to work very hard to match the success of the Olympic Games in Sochi,” the analyst concluded.

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