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An Olympic Shame: Vladimir Putin Plays Host To Winter Games

Feb 5, 2014
Originally published on February 5, 2014 8:33 am

You know those commercials for prescription medicines on television when they devote the first 15 seconds to the benefits of the drug and then take the next 45 telling you all the bad things that could happen if you use it? Vladimir Putin's Olympics remind me of that. For all the happiness his Winter Games are supposed to bring us, you need considerably more time to hear about all the things that could go wrong.

Let's not forget that Putin was given these games by the perennially inept International Olympic Committee. How is it possible that the IOC could have done so little due diligence as to award the games to a Soviet throwback bent on putting on a show in an out-of-the-way place where poverty and payoffs thrive, where terrorism and tragedy loom, where the environment is endangered, dissent is disallowed and prejudice is certified by law? Does anybody in the IOC ever have to answer for its mistakes?

Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's take on this issue.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Our commentator Frank Deford wants to know what the 2014 Winter Olympics are doing in Russia in the first place.

FRANK DEFORD: You know those commercials for prescription medicines on television when they devote the first 15 seconds to the benefits of the drug, and then take the next 45 telling you all the bad things that could happen if you use it? And: Call your doctor if you find yourself comatose, bald or demented.

Vladimir Putin's Olympics remind me of that. For all the happiness his games are supposed to bring us, you need considerably more time to hear about all the things that could go wrong. Yet as corrupt and deceitful that Putin may be, do not forget that he was given these games, presented them by that incredibly, perennially inept body of poseurs, the International Olympic Committee. They are Putin's loving parents. He is their Rosemary's Baby.

The IOC talks about how the Olympics represent fairness, fellowship, equality, blah, blah, blah. But then they too often give their precious jewel of what they presumptuously call a movement to scoundrels and humbugs, promptly then to wash their hands of responsibility and look the other way when their surrogates abase the so-called Olympic ideals.

How is it possible that the IOC could have done so little due diligence as to award the games to a Soviet throwback, bent on putting on a show in an out-of-the-way place where poverty and pay-offs thrive, where terrorism and tragedy loom, where the environment is endangered, dissent is disallowed, and prejudice is certified by law? Does anybody in the IOC ever have to answer for its mistakes? In particular, why aren't our American reps ever held to account?

If you're interested, two of the four incumbent U.S. committee persons, Anita DeFrantz and James Easton, already members, in Guatemala in 2007, when Putin personally showed up and the beguiled delegates voted to give him this winter's games. Ms. DeFrantz is a prominent part of the power structure, elected to the IOC way back in 1986 for a term that won't expire until she is 80, a comfortable 37-year ride.

She served as a vice-president in the '90s. And now, the undistinguished but loyal Ms. DeFrantz has even been voted back on the executive board. We should expect our IOC representatives to better explain themselves and their curious organization. Term limits could bring fresh thinking.

But as for Putin, say this for him. No one person has ever been so identified with an Olympics as he. Yes, Hitler is infamous for his association with the Games of 1936, but those games, winter and summer, belonged to a whole party, the Nazis. The 2014 Winter Olympic Games are, from start to finish, the property of one single man: Vladimir Putin.

Call your doctor if you hear the IOC is taking another vote.

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INSKEEP: The comments of Frank Deford come to us most Wednesdays here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.