Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sochi Problems: Olympics Fail to Deliver Favorable Opinion of Russia

Written by Korbel student Maryn

While the Olympics are widely considered an opportunity for the host country to put forward its best face to a large international audience, the 2014 Sochi Olympics have highlighted more negatives than positives for Russia. Twitter has become overrun with the hashtag “#SochiProblems” as the Russian federation dealt with problems long after journalists and athletes had begun arriving. These games have also been plagued by accusations of Russian human rights violations and homophobic laws.

Before the opening ceremonies, the decision to hold the Olympics in Sochi was not well-received. In a newly released Pew Research poll, 44 percent of respondents said it was a “bad idea” to hold the games in Sochi, citing security concerns in addition to political ones influencing their views. The 2008 Olympics in Beijing were also troubled by low public opinion at the onset. China, as with Russia, suffers from mixed opinions in the U.S.

However, opinions regarding Beijing grew more positive over the course of the games. It remains to be seen whether Russia will benefit from this same phenomenon. So far, any positive images of Russia have been accompanied by controversy, potentially negating the effects of the pattern as seen in Beijing.

Pew Research 2014

Pew Research 2008
Negative views of Russia extend beyond the Olympics. Despite the potential for positive images of Sochi to permeate global media, in a recent Gallup poll, 63% of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Putin. Furthermore, 60% of Americans have an unfavorable view of Russia. This is increasingly important given that Russia has leverage the U.S. does not have in dealing with challenging countries, such as in Syria and Iran.

In a 2013 Gallup poll, Russia helped broker a deal regarding Syrian chemical weapons, which averted U.S. military action. Despite this, 50% of Americans now consider Russia an unfriendly or enemy state. Negative public sentiment is likely to make it difficult for the Obama administration to engage with Russia in the future, despite any potentially positive results.

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