The International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to ban Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics is a fortuitous opportunity for Putin because it can enhance his domestic status on several powerful emotional levels. Supporting this perspective was the lack of caustic and bombastic vitriol from Putin with respect to the decision and his tactic to take the “high road” in encouraging individual Russian athletes to participate.
For Putin the IOC decision whether negative or positive was a win-win. With respect to the IOC ban, Russia’s propaganda machine can now craft a public relations campaign as follows:
Western economic sanctions targeting large business and specific oligarchs have not been as effective as anticipated. The IOC ban represents a cultural sanction against the Russian people by denying them the opportunity to revel in their country’s participation.
Additionally this is why the timing Putin’s announcement that he was running for re-election came almost immediately after the IOC ban, an announcement made from a tractor factory, operated by the “salt of the earth” Russian worker.
Putin’s March 2018 victory in the presidential elections is certainly assured. Despite high approval ratings, Putin needs an overwhelming victory, specifically a high turnout to cement his mandates and possibly legacy. Because there are no strong opposition candidates, he risks a low turnout which would undermine his power with the people.
This is why the IOC ban provides the perfect opposing candidate – a foreign entity that threatens Russian culture and dignity that can inspire the Russian people to re-elect Putin as their savior who will continue to protect them from economic, military and cultural encirclement.
Although the IOC will permit individual Russian athletes from participating, historically in Russian culture the athlete is inextricably tied to and indistinguishable to the Russian Motherland. Under the IOC ban the playing of the Russian national anthem and showing of the Russian flag would not be permitted, essentially a visual and aural denial of the Russian people. This represents an attempt to debase, fracture and break Russian cultural identity creating cultural orphans respected as athletes for their achievements but without formal recognition of their homeland.
This IOC bans is the perfect scenario that supports and justifies Putin’s continued efforts at promoting cultural and ethnic pride resurgence in selectively choosing Russian/Soviet past glories.
Unlike professional athletes Russians playing elsewhere is strictly a business arrangement. Despite pro- athletes participating in the Olympic games, they represent their country directly through their uniforms, not a business entity.
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