WEEKENDER: Sport and politics are an unavoidable mix
12:06pm Saturday 22nd February 2014 in News
Great Britain's (left to right) Lauren Gray, Claire Hamilton, Vicki Adams, Anna Sloan and Eve Muirhead pose for a picture in the Olympic Park during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday February
IF THE 2014 Winter Olympics has taught us anything, it should be that politics and sport, whether we like it or not, do mix.
That may not be the way that a goodly number of us want it, but that is the way it is.
IT was vitally important that a significant portion of the news agenda in the run-up to the games in Sochi was taken up with highlighting Russia’s appalling stance on homosexuality and gay rights.
The insidious and downright repressive nature of this attitude needed to be shouted long and loud from the rooftops, and it was.
The issue was treated with the seriousness it deserved, but when necessary, pantomime ridicule was deployed to show up the stupidity of the stance and of those who sought to peddle it, not least in relation to the pre-Games proclamation by mayor of Sochi Anatoly Pakhomov, that there were no gays in the city.
Once the sport began, the furore over gay rights was not forgotten.
Since the opening ceremony it has been there, despite the best efforts of the authorities and the organisers to sweep it under the carpet of snow.
And what a sporting spectacle it has been.
In the past I have found it hard to, er, warm to the concept of a Winter Olympics. Skiing, curling, ice hockey, and their sporting ilk just don’t normally do it for me.
This year though, has been different somehow, and it is not just down to the fact that Team GB have been doing better than usual.
I have come to a belated appreciation, I think, of the fact that the dedication, training, skill and competitiveness required to perform and excel at this level in these sports is every bit the equal of anything more familiar to us on these shores.
It is easy for instance, to regard the showy, high octane antics of freestyle skiers and snowboarders as little more than window dressing.
But these Games have forced me to reconsider.
There is indeed a high degree of skill involved in these activities, coupled with bravery that verges on the foolhardy.
Freestyle skier Rowan Cheshire’s accident – landing on her face from several metres up during a training run – is a timely reminder that risk is an inherent element of all sport.
Even so, having seen the selfie she took after coming round in hospital, ouch.
The trials and tribulations of speed skater Elise Christie too, are a reminder that success and failure in sport rests on the narrowest of margins.
For her to have summoned the strength even to compete in the 1,000m after crashing out in a previous event and being denied the silver medal by a disqualification in another – and having to endure the cowardly onslaught of Twitter trolls – is testament to entirely different interpretations of the word courage.
And then we have the Team GB curlers. The tired old “bowls on ice” stuff has been trotted out again and again. But curling is very different to anything one is likely to see on our finely manicured greens.
Golden girl Lizzy Yarnold epitomises all of the talk about skill, bravery and determination, having swept to gold in the skeleton bob.
Traditional bob-sleigh looks scary enough, but to do what Yarnold and her counterparts do takes what I believe is referred in some quarters as ‘cojones’.
Despite hailing all of this success, courage and competitive spirit however, it is necessary to return to politics.
While the best in sporting endeavour is being hailed in Sochi, over the Russian border in Ukraine, a tragedy is unfolding.
Russian influence in this distressing scenario is paradoxically both obvious and shadowy, and there will doubtless be a degree of retrospective unease that we have been involved in a celebration of sporting endeavour hosted by a nation whose intentions toward its neighbour may have resulted in its getting blood on its hands. Lest we forget however, we too are involved, as a player in a European Union that is seeking to assert its influence in Ukraine.
But we cannot allow ourselves to thus feel doubly compromised by our involvement in, and enjoyment of, the sporting spectacle in Sochi.
In sport, just as in politics, in all their messy, controversial, awful glory, participation – the opportunity to influence events and their outcome – is more often than not, the only way to go.