Dan Wetzel is covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi for our sister site Yahoo! Sports in the United States.
The International Olympic Committee has a new president in Thomas Bach and, from the looks of it, he might actually make people miss the elitist, out-of-touch lordship of his predecessor Jacques Rogge.
Now, in general, the sewing bee politics of these career opportunists who manage to enrich themselves off the Games is tedious and repetitious. That they are drunk on their own delusions of grandeur – and complimentary champagne – goes without saying. A former sailor famous for repeatedly trying to discount the accomplishments of Usain Bolt has been replaced with a former fencer who seems intent on buddying up with Vladimir Putin.
Give Bach this much: He came out guns a-blazing.
On Tuesday, Bach lit into "politicians" – cough, cough, President Obama – for daring to put "politics" above this supposedly sacred athletic competition. The "politics" are the USA's tame, passive-aggressive protest of Russia's anti-gay laws and stances by not having Obama waste time flying here to genuflect under the majesty of Putin and Bach the fencer. Instead, the official U.S. delegation includes (gasp) three openly gay former athletes, most notably tennis star and activist Billie Jean King. (On Wednesday, King announced she would not attend the Games to care for her ailing mother.)
"Please understand what our responsibilities are and what your responsibilities are," Bach said. "Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes. People have a very good understanding of what it really means to single out the Olympic Games to make an ostentatious gesture which allegedly costs nothing but produces international headlines."
Note that the United States sent a full contingent of competitors here. No athlete's back is being used for anything. There has been no official protest. There is no boycott. It's full-steam ahead for the USOC. It's just that Obama stayed home and didn't bother sending either his wife or vice president in his stead. That's it.
You know how pompous you have to be to consider this an insult worth addressing in a speech? You know how self-absorbed you have to be to lecture the President – not to mention dozens of other leaders of progressive nations such as Germany, France and Great Britain who aren't setting foot here either?
You know how lost you have to be to ignore the Russian's ridiculous rhetoric about homosexuals – Sochi's mayor has declared there are no gay people here.
How dare the world make Vlad and his friends uncomfortable?
Even better was when Bach puffed out his lip over smaller countries refusing to send their presidents and prime ministers, too, countries that the IOC apparently didn't even deem worthy of inviting in the first place.
"In the extreme, we had to see a few politicians whose contributions to the fight for a good cause consisted of publicly declining invitations they had not even received," Bach said.
Yeah, how dare they. No one likes them anyway. If this sounds like a bunch of mean, s12-year-olds on Facebook, well, you get the point.
While no U.S. president will garner 100-percent support of the people – nor should they – this is one stance that ought to be universally supported. It's not even the issue of gay rights. It's the mere fact that the President of the United States should never be bullied by these "sporting leaders" who figured out how to make a career of tapping into the immense profits of the Olympics.
For the uninitiated, the IOC is about the most pointless, pretentious and, alas, profitable organisation on earth. Take all the worst tendencies of other sporting bodies, add the most corrupt parts of governmental graft, add a healthy dose of Kardashian-level arrogance, quadruple everything and you get a fraction of this organisation.
It seems to think the Games wouldn't exist without their bribe-ripe bidding process that demands such outrageous levels of grandeur to make them feel comfortable that countries are forced to build pointless, overpriced and quickly abandoned tax-payer funded facilities to placate them. Even China buckled under the price of running one of these things.
All while they scold, politicians and politics? The truth is this entire enterprise's popularity was built on the back of heated nationalism, political battles and even rivalries formed from outright wars. Jesse Owens in Berlin. USA-Russia hockey. So on and so on. You can never separate the politics from the Games.
You couple that with the sure-bet television draw that comes via the sex appeal of the athletes (both male and female) and you have yourself a billion-dollar behemoth Hollywood couldn't create.
It's a simple formula. Unless you believe it's really the world's love of fencing that brings them in, right Thomas?
Bach is casting his lot with Putin, whose oligarchy spent an utterly absurd $51 billion (£31.2bn) enriching his buddy contractors to please the IOC aristocrats of the world.
This is a clear power play, a choosing of sides, best illustrated by the fact that career-sporting moralist Dick Pound (pictured below) – once the grandstanding head of the bumbling World Anti-Doping Association – is clearly in support of Bach. In general, if Dick Pound is on one side of an issue, you want to be on the other.
Pound, the Canadian, wasn't keen on Obama staying in America and sending in his place a delegation that quietly says America supports all lifestyles. Apparently, 70-year-old Billie Jean really scares the hell out of these people.
"That's a foreign policy response to a major power; I don't think they thought it through," Pound told USA Today. "I think they were tone deaf on it. This is the United States of America's response to an issue that is not very much under control in the United States either? I thought it was an unfortunate response and frankly not fair to the members of the delegation."
Unfair to the members of the delegation? Yeah, it's always about them. And he was just getting started.
"You have the chardonnay folks, sipping, saying, 'This is an issue for me.' Sip. 'And I want you to go over there and be my soldiers.' Sip. 'I'll be watching it on television with another glass of chardonnay,' " Pound said. "It's kind of cheap.
"This is how the United States of America, the world's most important, influential nation handles this issue?" Pound continued. "In an Olympic context, at a time when you're thinking about bidding for the Olympic Games?"
Oh, this was the triple crown of IOC absurdity. Here was an Olympic crony ripping the President as a chardonnay sipper for supporting a human rights issue by not coming to their little party, all while surmising that King and the others are being used (they, in turn, say they feel empowered) before throwing out the old we-may-not-award-you-our-Games-no-matter-how-superior-your-bid-is card in an effort to scare other countries into silence.
These guys sure know the playbook. So, you know what, let them have the Olympics and stage them in more desperate countries. Let them cower to Putin. Let them be so deluded over their potency that they find it so offensive that the President might actually spend time being President. Let them be so insulted by the presence of a few old gay athletes that they pout and protest.
The world is changing all around these guys, whether they realise it or not.
- Sports & Recreation
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- Thomas Bach
- Vladimir Putin
- President Obama
- United States
- Dan Wetzel