Sochi Games: Politics, Not Sport, Tops Western Media Agenda

It is all part of a political agenda of low-intensity interference in Ukrainian and Russian affairs. 

The Sochi Winter Olympic Games open amid a flurry of superlatives. They are the most expensive Games to date – at a cost of $50 billion; they are the first ever Winter Olympics to be hosted by Russia; and the official torch relay to start to event is the longest in history, covering over 40,000 miles and involving the participation of some 14,000 torch bearers.

Another superlative is that no other sporting event has attracted so much lurid and negative media coverage, emanating largely from the Western corporate news outlets…

Over the past weeks, Western media have sought to highlight all manner of alleged problems awaiting the Sochi Games, ranging from the grimly serious to the sublimely ridiculous. This week, ahead of the Games’ official opening, under the auspices of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Western media carried reports that the US government was warning airlines heading to the Black Sea resort on the risk of explosives being secreted by terrorists in toothpaste tubes.

A US warship has entered the waters of the Black Sea, without official explanation, with a second missile-bearing US vessel on the way. American and French Special Forces have also said that they have contingency plans in hand to evacuate their nationals in the event of a terrorist attack.

Only weeks after the deadly double bombing in Volgograd – some 400 miles from Sochi – which killed more than 30 people, the threat of a terror assault on the Games is real enough. Some 40,000 Russian army and police have been deployed in and around Sochi to ensure security. Nevertheless, there is more than a hint that Western media and government sources are playing up the threat in a way that adds to anxiety of visitors and participating teams, rather than alleviating.

There have also been numerous Western media news stories and supposedly investigative pieces about alleged corruption among Russian officials involved in the construction of the Olympic facilities; articles and television programs about alleged pollution problems from shoddy engineering; about families being displaced from their homes to make way for stadiums and infrastructure; about state-of-the-art accommodation for the athletes from more than 80 countries having faulty plumbing and contaminated water supplies.

The list goes on and on.

Then there is the issue of «gay rights» given prominence by the British Guardian which published a lengthy article on the eve of the opening of the Games, along with an open letter from more than 200 international authors and activists, who claimed that Russia’s new law last year banning homosexual literature is a «violation of free speech».

The issue was amplified by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who is attending the opening ceremony. The hapless UN figure head, who slavishly follows political orders from Washington on every issue, from Syria to North Korea, from Iran to Afghanistan, called on the International Olympic Committee to «defend the rights of gays and lesbians».

This gender issue is why US President Barack Obama and a few other prominent Western leaders have decided to, in effect, boycott the Sochi Games, in what is seen by many observers as an unprecedented snub to Russia.

But it was this week’s article in the New York Times – also on the eve of the Games’ opening – about the plight of stray dogs in Sochi that gave away the political agenda of the Western media’s coverage. The Times’ top three foreign news stories were on Egyptian jihadists, the political problems facing Ukraine, and, no kidding, «Racing to Save the Stray Dogs of Sochi».

In more than 1,100 words, America’s so-called paper of record described in harrowing detail how hundreds of stray animals in the vicinity of the Sochi venue were «facing a death sentence before the Winter Olympics begin».




The article claimed that the feral dogs were being lined up for «systematic slaughter» by exterminators «hired by the [Russian] government». Wooed by the purple prose of «squealing puppies» leaping up to kiss the faces of shelter workers, the reader could have been forgiven for thinking that Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB, had hired hitmen to conduct a ghastly pogrom against canines in Sochi.

The New York Times claimed that the issue of dog control in Sochi «cast a gruesome specter over the traditionally cheery atmosphere of the Games» and that it «also sharply undercut the image of a friendlier, welcoming Russia that President Vladimir V. Putin has sought to cultivate in recent months.»

Talk about a shaggy-dog story! Never mind the Pulitzer Prize, this story deserves the Pull-the-other-one Prize.

Reading the article one was almost expecting to hear how the dogs, if they were not put down by lethal injection, were going to be herded onto trains to be transported to gulags in Siberia.

Elsewhere, of far more disturbing human interest – but given a fraction of the Western media coverage – was the story of Susan Basso, the American female death row prisoner who was executed on the same day this week in the state of Texas. Basso was put to death by lethal injection. She was the 510th prisoner – and fifth woman – to have had her live terminated by Texas authorities since 1976.

Her execution was only three weeks after the scandal of another American death row prisoner who was executed also by lethal injection and whose agonizing death took 26 minutes because the administered drugs were an experimental cocktail owing to shortages of the official prison toxin, Phenobarbital.

However, with perverse priority, the New York Times opted to cover the «feared» extermination of stray dogs in Sochi rather than the barbaric fate of Ms Basso, and what her legalized killing says about contemporary American society.

The pathetic misplaced priorities of the Western media in their saturation negative coverage of Russia’s Winter Olympics clearly points to a politically driven agenda, not an agenda based on objective journalistic value. Or, in other words, Western media are serving as propaganda functionaries with the obvious objective of undermining the Russian authorities. So much for free-thinking independent Western journalism, and so much for the Olympic spirit.

It is no coincidence that the hysterical Western media hype over Sochi chimes closely with Western government political interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine. At every step over the past three months since the Ukrainian government rejected a European Union trade agreement, Western capitals have sought to inflame internal political problems in that country and between its Russian neighbour.

Western political leaders and media have descended on Ukraine en masse to lionize and agitate pro-EU protesters even though the latter have behaved like an insurgency vandalizing public property, rather than constitutional peaceful dissenters.

This week, we had US vice president Joe Biden phoning Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych telling him to «take immediate steps to compromise»; we also saw the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton coming to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, to act as an uninvited «political broker»; and once again the American assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, flew in to rally the mobs in Kiev’s Maidan Square.

The relentless negative Western media coverage over the Sochi Games is not motivated by the alleged ostensible concerns that have been raised, whether gay rights or animal rights, faulty plumbing or the Olympic Torch blowing out.

It is all part of a political agenda of low-intensity interference in Ukrainian and Russian affairs. This agenda is consonant with the wider creeping military aggression of the US and its NATO allies towards Moscow, from the expansion of missile systems around Russia’s border, to the covert support for extremists in the Caucasus to carry out acts of terrorism.

But what is galling is that conceited Western news outlets, with grandiose self-regarding titles like the New York Times, BBC, France 24, call this information «journalism» – when in fact it is nothing more than state-sponsored propaganda.

The saying goes: don’t mix sport with politics. From Western media and their governments’ point of view, Sochi is evidently all about politics and very little about sport.


Finian CUNNINGHAM | Strategic Culture Foundation

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