University of Idaho International Studies Program Director Breaks Down Politics of Non-Political Olympics

Tuesday, February 4 2014

MOSCOW, Idaho – While the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are focused on international sporting competition, the underlying political tensions between countries are playing themselves out. Anti-gay legislation and resulting protests and terrorism threats are already grabbing headlines.

University of Idaho director of the Martin Institute and Program in International Studies, Bill Smith, is available to media to speak about the Olympics and their impact on the U.S. and the international community.

According to Smith:
“While the Olympics promote international sporting events that are not political, by their nature, they become political when you include so many nations in direct competition in front of a global television audience. In addition to sport, the Olympics provides a whole multitude of avenues of cross cultural, cross-country interactions.”

Availability and focus: Smith is available to talk about:

Political landscape: Discussing world sport, the Olympics and how politics and tension play out on the field.

Terrorism threats: With the Olympics based in Sochi, Russia, which is near the Caucasus region, there is concern about the unstable region, protesters, separatists and terrorist groups already calling for attacks. Not since the Salt Lake City, Utah 2002 Olympics has there been such tangible threats.

Return of the Cold War narrative: With the games in Russia, the East versus West competition returns. Russia has designs on showcasing their sporting greatness to prove the vibrancy of their regime and to signal their ability to resist the Western “encroachment” that has seen expansion of NATO and the EU into what Russia considers its geographic sphere of influence.

Anti-gay legislation/protests: Looking at the Russian laws and resulting backlash at a non-political event, what should the International Olympic Committee and corporate sponsors do? What kind of protests and statements will be made and how does that affect international relations?

Sports narratives/medal tables: With the emergence of television-friendly sports like ski cross and snow board, Western dominated games coming out of the X Games and added to the Olympics at the 2006 and 2010 games, Russia sees it as a bone of contention due to a perceived Western bias. Also, the Russian government was angry at the 2010 games performance of their athletes and has rededicated their commitment to sporting investment.

City versus country: The Olympics are technically hosted by the city, but Russia is contributing heavily to Sochi’s Olympic budget. How will this make a difference in the presentation of the games?

Smith also is available to speak on other topics, including drugs/doping, free press issues and the North/South narrative inherent in a Winter Games.

To arrange for an interview, call Amanda Cairo, University Communications, at (208) 885-6259.

About the University of Idaho
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