At Sochi Games, Putin evokes spirit of 1980

Thu Feb 6, 2014 9:55am EST
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By Timothy Heritage

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Political controversy, tight security and mega-construction projects: for Sochi 2014, read Moscow 1980.

The Communist Soviet Union has collapsed and the Cold war has ended since Moscow organized the Summer Olympics 34 years ago, but there remain some striking parallels with the Winter Games opening in Sochi on Friday.

In bringing the Olympics to Russia, President Vladimir Putin is following in a tradition dating back to Soviet times of using sport to project his country as a world-beating superpower.

Putin wants to use the Games to portray Russia as a modern state that has come a long way since Soviet times. Not surprisingly for a man brought up in the Soviet Union and a former KGB spy, he is looking to 1980 for inspiration.

"We have strong memories of the emotional, uplifting enthusiasm we felt during the 1980 Moscow Olympics and ... the mighty, inspiring spirit of the Olympics is once again returning to our nation," he told Olympic chiefs in Sochi this week.

For ageing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, sport was one of the few fields where a country facing shortages and lagging the West on living standards could show itself as a dominant force.

What he was trying to sell was the superiority of the socialist system.

Too bad for Brezhnev that the United States led a boycott of the Games over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Putin has at least avoided that embarrassment but only after boycott calls by gay rights activists over a Russian law banning the spread of "gay propaganda" among minors failed.   Continued...

(From L to R) Olympic Village Mayor Elena Isinbaeva, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Minister of Sport, Tourism and Youth policy Vitaly Mutko visit the Coastal Cluster Olympic Village ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Athletes Village in Sochi February 5, 2014. REUTERS/Pascal Le Segretain/Pool