Sochi: Gays, Olympic Games, and Public Diplomacy

In 11 days the eyes of the world will be looking to Russia as the 2014 Winter Olympics commence in Sochi, marking a profoundly important period of time in Russian public diplomacy. The Olympics and other sporting events have always been used as opportunities for conducting public diplomacy, a tradition that dates back to the 70’s and Nixon’s “ping-pong diplomacy.” While recent Olympics in Great Britain and China have proven to be very positive for the national image of both countries how Russia will deal with conducting public diplomacy during the games will prove to be much more interesting considering the amount of controversy surrounding the games already.

Due to recent legislature forbidding the exposure of “non-traditional” sexuality towards minors and recent comments made by the mayor of Sochi that gays do not exist in Sochi Russia’s image has already taken hard blows in the international community. The difficulties Russia has faced with addressing its public image via the Sochi games highlights the difficulty of conducting public diplomacy, as numerous people in Russia like Sochi’s mayor both knowingly and unknowingly contribute to Russia’s shifting image. While Russia’s public diplomacy efforts surrounding the Sochi games have largely fallen flat so far there are still plenty of chances to improve its image. Before the 2008 Summer games China was placed in an unfavorable light after international protests against its human rights record and numerous other controversies. Despite these apparent setbacks all of these issues took a backseat to the games after the opening ceremony, pointing towards a positive future for Russia’s public image.

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