Putin Warms To Olympics Opening Days As Criticism Becomes Background Noise
Russia President Vladimir Putin has "relished his role as the host and driving force behind the Sochi Winter Games as media criticism over corruption and flawed facilities was replaced by praise from visitors and athletes," according to Ivan Nechepurenko of the MOSCOW TIMES. Putin has "spent the first four days of the Olympics visibly beaming over what many see as a major win for Russia." The IOC on Tuesday "appeared to confirm the overall success of the Games, canceling a daily meeting held to discuss any issues that need to be tackled." IOC President Thomas Bach in a statement said, "We are now four days into the Games and are very satisfied with the way they are unfolding." Nechepurenko reports Putin dismissed the "negative media reports and criticism that foreshadowed the Games' opening as a modern-day form of deterrence, a strategy popular during the Cold War and 'aimed at hindering the development of the Soviet Union.'" Putin said, "Whenever Russia demonstrates any positive development, it becomes clear that the appearance of new strong players and rivals causes concerns in economics, politics and security spheres. We have seen attempts to deter Russia (from success) many times and, unfortunately, this was true with the Olympic project." Nechepurenko notes gay rights was a cause that activists "said warranted a boycott of the Games." But days after the Games kicked off, "rather than being inconvenienced by such protests, Putin was posing for photo-ops -- at one point even with an openly gay athlete" in Dutch speedskater Ireen Wust. Wust later "proudly told reporters that Putin had given her a hug, a fact which seemed to dispel fears that gays would face discrimination at the Games" (MOSCOW TIMES, 2/12).
ATTENDANCE STILL A CONCERN: The GLOBE & MAIL's Mark MacKinnon noted the "biggest lingering concerns" by Tuesday were the balmy weather and "poorer-than-expected attendance." During the first days of the Games, "rafts of empty seats were visible ... particularly at less-popular events, like biathlon, slopestyle and cross-country skiing." Concerns rose after "just 6,000 of 7,500 seats were filled for the men’s downhill race on Sunday, traditionally one of the bigger Winter Olympic draws." IOC Marketing Committee Chair Gerhard Heiberg said, “There are not enough people" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/12). SOCOG Head of Ticketing Dmitry Perlin said ticket sales are "significantly above our expectations." SOCOG on Tuesday announced nearly 925,000 tickets "have been sold so far" for the Games. Perlin said that 70-75% of the tickets "have gone to Russians while Japan and Germany sold out their quotas" (AP, 2/11). In N.Y., Gregory White wrote the "hundreds of thousands of Russians with tickets to the Winter Games have so far been more stoic than stoked, more Bolshoi than Boston Garden." There is "little to rival the earthshaking 'U-S-A' chants of big American crowds, or the deafening vuvuzela horns that blared" during the '10 World Cup in South Africa. The Russian crowd "occasionally chants 'Ros-see-ya,' Russian for Russia, but rarely for more than a few beats." At some venues, they are "drowned out by smaller groups of fans from rowdier countries, including the Dutch" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/12).
ONE REASON FOR A MUTED CROWD: Also in N.Y., Brian Costa noted a new Russian federal law last year "prohibited the sale of alcohol inside sports stadiums and arenas," and a local ordinance last month "banned alcohol sales within 50 meters of some sports venues." The approach reflects the "unpleasant memories of drunken, unruly fans at the last Winter Games in Vancouver." However, in the mountain Olympic venues, which are outdoors and "not subject to restrictions, the alcohol flows freely." Fans at the snowboard halfpipe yesterday "drank from cans of alcoholic Baltika and cups of mulled wine" (WSJ, 2/12).