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February 13 2014

The Only Pakistani at the Sochi Olympics Taught Himself to Ski on Wooden Planks

This meme uploaded by the See More Facebook page has been liked more than 45,000 times.

This meme uploaded by the See More Facebook page has been liked more than 45,000 times.

While he has growing up in northern Pakistan, close to some of the highest slopes in the world, Mohammad Karim taught himself to ski on home-made equipment made by his uncle from wooden planks.

Now he is his Pakistan’s sole representative at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

More about his journey in this report by Pakistani daily the Express Tribune. 


Did Turkmenistan Get Cold Feet Before the Sochi Winter Olympics?

There were many plans to send a team from Turkmenistan to the Winter Olympics 2014 in Sochi, but none of them materialized.

“We will certainly take advantage of the Russian invitation to take part in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, for which it is necessary to begin the appropriate preparations already today,” President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov said back in 2007. 

In the event, Turkmens awaiting the appearance of their national team in Sochi saw only their president at the star-studded opening ceremony. 

CA all

President Berdymuhamedov (top left corner) greets Kazakh athletes.
Caption from BBC coverage of the opening ceremony.

Turkmen netizens have been fairly active in their discussion of the Sochi Olympics. On, a micro-blogging service, many expressed a sense of envy towards the President, as well as surprise not to see a single participant from Turkmenistan. ‘A MEMORY' comments [tr]:

Ýa nesip!

Lucky him!

Berdymuhamedov, who has taken a back seat in the sporting stakes ever since an infamous face-plant took the sheen off an otherwise uncontested victory in a horse race back in Ashkhabad, pleased many by attending the games in a business suit rather than a sport suit. NepesX joked [tr]:

yarysha gatnasmasa bolyala

as long as he doesn’t participate in the race, it’s alright

At the same time visitors to the opposition website chrono-tm stressed the deterioration of the country's youth as the main reason for the absence of Turkmen athletes at the Olympics.

‘Sochustvushii’ [Сочувствующий] comments [ru]:

А кого посылать вся молодёж сидит на норкате тесты на употребление допинга из туркмении никто не пройдёт

There is no one to send [to the Olympics]. All young people use drugs. No one in Turkmenistan will pass the doping tests.

Turkmenistan had built a fine winter stadium in 2011, and seemed on the cusp of entering their first winter games, so their non-entry is even more perplexing.

Jorabay asked [ru] hopefully:

Pochemu turkmenskix hockeistow ne otpravit’ w sleduyuschiy raz — w 2018 godu?

Why not send Turkmen hockey players for next Olympics in 2018?

And ‘lale' took solace [ru] in the country's hotter climate:

Zima y nas teplaya …vot pochemy nety spotsmenov k zimney Olimpiade,

Our winter is warm…this is why we have no winter athletes.

‘Anonim’ [Аноним] disagrees:

скоро подрастут фигуристы и хоккеисты …. а так больше не вижу ни в каких вида спорта переспектив

 Soon our figure skaters and hockey players will come of age…Other than that I don't see any other promising types of sports [for us].

Turkmenistan has a sport and health-oriented public policy. The country is preparing to hold the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games and is building an Olympic Village. The country’s ambitions also include hosting the Asian games and Olympics in 2023.

These occasions would certainly give the country with the fourth largest gas reserves in the world a chance to show off its wealth, but one gets the impression that for all the records he has won in his own country, what President Berdymuhamedov craves more than anything else in the world is that elusive Turkmen Olympic medal. So far the republic's forgettable record at the games reads: Entered 5, Won 0. 

Welcome All to Russia's 2014 Olympic Hunger Games

President Putin at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony. Anonymous image found online.

President Putin at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony. Anonymous image found online.

As “toilet-gate” jokes[Global Voices report] and the hashtag #SochiProblems grow stale, another way to poke fun at Russia's hosting of the Winter Games has emerged: comparisons between the Olympics and the wildly popular Hunger Games franchise.

The Hunger Games story features a dictatorial leader, President Snow, who maintains control of a dystopic nation by forcing teenagers to compete in a televised tournament that must end in only one survivor. Of course, in practice, the Olympics has no similarities with the violence of this fictional death-match. For one, Olympians don't kill each other for their gold medals.

However, a combination of the word “Games” and President Putin's signature stern facial expressions (as well as his reputation as a strong authoritarian leader) has struck a chord with Internet users — enough to create numerous memes using Putin as the background for President Snow's quotations. One common meme a photo of Putin with the phrase “Welcome. Happy Hunger Games [to you.]” superimposed on the image:

“Welcome. Happy Hunger Games.” Anonymous image found online.

Other memes focus on a different aspect of the Hunger Games. There, the outfits of the characters from the ruling faction are notoriously flamboyant and appear ridiculous and frivolous to the working class of the fictional nation. One popular image currently circulating Twitter is of one of the women carrying country plaques during the opening ceremony, juxtaposed with a character from the recent Hunger Games movie who wears a somewhat similar retrofuturistic dress:

Character from the Hunger Games movie, and model carrying Argentina's plaque in the opening ceremony parade. Anonymous image found online.

Character from the Hunger Games movie (left), and model carrying Argentina's plaque in the opening ceremony parade (right). Anonymous image found online.

There is serious meaning behind the silly outfit comparisons — the Sochi Games, which are estimated to have cost over $40 billion, have been plagued by allegations of corruption [Global Voices report], horrible working conditions and lack of payment for the possibly illegal workers. The idea of an under-class looking with horror at the waste of the “Capitol” can be seen as an allegory for Russia's poor and disadvantaged watching the most expensive Games in history take place right in front of them, yet out of reach. One Twitter user wrote:

It's true. Same sh*t, the people are going hungry and poor, while the government is happy

Another user eschewed subtlety and embraced hyperbole in making his comparison:

The Hunger Games, like the Olympics, are controlled by the authorities, to entertain the slaves, and maintain an eternal president — all those who disagree are ruthlessly killed!

Not all comparison are this negative — most of bloggers take a humorous approach. One Twitter user humorously suggested that the Olympic Games would be improved if they were turned into Hunger Games for government officials:

It would be better if instead of the Olympics they stage Hunger Games … between members of parliament.

In some ways, this lighthearted approach to poking fun of the Olympics is a breath of fresh air compared to some of the harsher memes [Global Voices report] out there. At the same time, the RuNet has become a confusing hodgepodge of articles criticizing Sochi, and articles criticizing the critics, until the real point of the Olympic Games, athleticism and national pride, is almost completely buried in a pile of meta-criticism. 

February 11 2014

Russia's Patriotic Overdrive in Sochi?

Hans Woellke (left) and Julia Lipnitskaia (right) compared. Ashley Wagner's reaction-face meme responds. (Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.)

Hans Woellke (left) and Julia Lipnitskaia (right) compared. Ashley Wagner's reaction-face meme responds. (Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.)

The Soviet Union may have defeated Hitler, but modern-day Russia’s war against fascism wages on. In just the last month, Russian authorities have used their battle with “the rehabilitation of Nazism” as a pretext [ru] for attacks on three different media outlets.

In late January, Russia’s only independent TV station got into hot water, when it aired a survey asking viewers if the USSR could have saved more lives by abandoning Leningrad to the Germans. On February 7, 2014, a Russian Senator demanded [ru] that officials temporarily suspend the broadcasting of CNN, after it published a story (later deleted) calling the Brest Fortress World War II memorial in Belarus “one of the world’s ugliest monuments.”

Most recently, there is trouble at Echo of Moscow, Russia’s premier liberal radio station (and a major hub for opposition-leaning materials online), where satirist Victor Shenderovich (best known for creating a political puppet show that aired in the 1990s) published a controversial blog post [ru] about the politics of Russia hosting the Winter Olympics.

Speaking on the floor of parliament today, Vladimir Vasilyev, the deputy chairman of the Russian Duma, demanded that Echo of Moscow apologize for Shenderovich’s post. (Curiously, Vasilyev addressed only Echo of Moscow, though the text was originally published on the less-trafficked website Ezhednevnyi Zhurnal.) Echo’s chief editor, Alexey Venediktov, wasted no time refusing to apologize [ru], pointing out that Shenderovich’s piece was never broadcast over the radio and only appeared in his blog (hosted on Echo’s site). (Shenderovich has also refused to apologize [ru].)

The post in question, titled “Olympic War: Putin and the Girl on Skates,” describes how liberal oppositionists suffer from a certain “schizophrenia” during the Olympics, struggling to reconcile their love of Russia’s historical accomplishments (Tolstoy, constructivist art, and so on) with Vladimir Putin’s apparent exploitation of these feats to boost his own popularity. Most memorably, Shenderovich also likens fifteen-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia’s performance in Sochi this week to Hans Woellke’s triumph in the men’s shot put competition in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. “Something, however, prevents us from enjoying [Woellke’s] victory today,” Shenderovich adds, warning against pride in an authoritarian state’s Olympic athletes.

While many things undoubtedly do keep us from celebrating Woellke today (in the war, he served as a captain in the Waffen SS, and his murder precipitated the massacre of a village in Belarus in 1943), Shenderovich’s comparison has proved controversial for many Russians. Though the Internet-savvy might regard it as nothing more than quick service of Godwin’s law, Shenderovich’s decision to equate Russia’s newest national treasure—a charming adolescent girl, no less—with a Nazi jock couldn’t have come at a worse time.

With the Winter Games underway in Sochi now, Russia is (understandably) in patriotic overdrive. That means anyone toying with the World War II narrative—to this day, Russia’s most sacred unifying myth—better be careful. TV Rain’s survey about ditching Leningrad crossed the line. CNN’s mockery of the Brest Fortress went too far. Shenderovich seems to have committed an even greater sin by abusing young, pretty Lipnitskaia, but it’s possible that any of these offenses would have passed as minor kerfuffles, were it not for the Olympic adrenaline now filling the country’s veins.

In Support of Lebanese Skier Jackie Chamoun

Lebanon's netizens found themselves having to defend Jackie Chamoun, Lebanon's Alpine Skier representative at the Soshi Olympics, after pictures of a past photoshoot in which she posed topless were released online.

Screenshot of showing Lebanese bloggers supporting Jackie Chamoun

Screenshot of showing Lebanese bloggers supporting Jackie Chamoun

The scandal erupted after a video of her photoshoot was released on Al Jadeed TV and escalated when Caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karam demanded an official investigation into her case.

This resulted in an overwhelming wave of support from Lebanon's netizens.

Blogger Abir Ghattas mocked the minister by suggesting he should sort out his priorities:

The minister is scared on the reputation of Lebanon, you know, Lebanon the country where:

Men beat their wives to death (and walk free)
Armed Militia roam the roads killing on identity
Tripoli is a live version of Red Alert meets Counter Strike
Ministers, and Deputies, spend years in power with no work done
Corruption is the daily bread of every official
Kids die on hospital doors
Artist’s work is censored
Al Assir appears on Prime Time TV and his hateful speeches are broadcasted live
Freedom of speech is an illusion
Ministry of tourism ads are borderline erotic
Jackie’s boobs are the national security risk, the bad image of the country and the blow that will break Lebanon’s back, Out-fucking-rageous!

She then went on to say:

“The scandal is not the topless photos of Jackie Chamoun, the real scandal is the low media standards, the patriarchal dinosaur-ish mentality, and sick moral compass that makes a photo that partially show some boobs a threat on Lebanon amazing image!”

Gino Raidy from Gino's Blog took a more aggressive approach:

The horribly backwards reaction to the surfacing of these old photos, makes you all look like savage brutes living in some theocracy in the mountains between Pakistan or Afghanistan, or in Iran, or Saudi. You are in fucking Beirut, the city that placed ads in Playboy Magazine in the 60s, and had its own red light district back in the day. Today, in 2014, you want to turn it into some religious theocracy that’s afraid of sex and hates women unless they’re 72 virgins you get for blowing your stupid self up? Or some savage tribe that still believes women are property and carry “the honor” of the family or whatever it is you call what you congregate yourself in?

Elie Fares from A Separate State of Mind points out the difference in reactions between Beirut and the rest of Lebanon:

When it comes to sex, we have a long way to go. Perhaps things are slowly changing. But there’s more to Lebanon than Beirut and its surroundings.

And he, too, points out that we should sort our priorities:

I can think of so many things that warrant are true scandals about this country, that warrant a discussion much, much more than Jackie Chamoun’s breasts. At the top of my head, I can think of the several explosions that have taken place within the past couple of months alone and the fact that they’ve become second nature to life in this place. I can think of a TV station that figured instagramming the body parts of a suicide bomber was a good idea. I can think of the fact that we haven’t had a decently functioning government for the past year and nor will we have one for the next year, it seems. I can think of the fact that presidential elections are literally in 3 months but we’re still waiting for the savior president’s name to be “inspired” by neighboring countries. I can think of the fact that going to a mall requires you to go through more checkpoint than an airport’s border control. I can even think of the graffiti artist that was arrested only two days ago by some unknown party’s henchmen because of him being at the “wrong” place. I can even think of the many pictures of the living conditions of some Lebanese in the North that should be scandalous.

Tarek Joseph Chemaly from Beirut NTSC reminded us of how Lebanon's own ministry of tourism put an ad in a 1971 issue of PlayBoy featuring Lebanese Miss Universe Georgina Rizk:

“Lebanese Ministry of Tourism uses public funds to put a scantily clad lady in Playboy Magazine to advertise the country at large. Don't believe me? Well, “Meet Lebanon

Writing on my own blog, Hummus For Thought, I pointed out how the very man who is criticizing Jackie Chamoun blocked a law that would protect women from domestic violence.

“Caretaker” Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami thinks it’s more damaging to Lebanon’s reputation that one of our best athletes, Jackie Chamoun, participated in a photoshoot where she showed as much skin – less, actually – as what we find in every lingerie shop and in every night club rather than his own refusal to sign a law protecting women from domestic violence? blogger Omar Al Fil listed his top 10 favorite responses to the scandal, among which are:

Nonetheless, Jackie Chamoun apologized on her Facebook page for offending her more conservative supporters. And her apology was met by thousands of people telling her that she has nothing to apologize for. Echoing their sentiments, Najib from Blog Baladi wrote:

You don’t need to apologize for anyone. We love you and wish you the best of luck in your upcoming races!

And as usual, there was bound to be a Tumblr somewhere responding to a “scandal”.

February 08 2014

I've Got 99 Sochi Problems

One of the rings fails to open during the Olympic opening ceremony -- a minor setback in an otherwise masterful performance. YouTube screenshot.

One of the rings fails to open during the Olympic opening ceremony — a minor setback in an otherwise masterful performance. YouTube screenshot.

Last week foreign journalists descended on Sochi, and tweets and photos of unfinished construction quickly made headlines in the west and in Russia. Journalists complained about everything from rusty water to faulty door handles. A Twitter account called @SochiProblems was launched, mocking the alleged disaster of the Russian Winter Olympic games.

For example, one CNN reporter complained that only one of the rooms booked for his group was available, and posted a photo of himself in his hotel room with the curtain rod fallen down:

Many Russians were less than pleased with the negative publicity. One blogger alleged [ru] that the reporter could have done the damage himself to create a story:

[...] гражданин, скорее всего, сам отломал держатель карниза, и теперь всем демонстрирует моральное убожество режима резидента Путина.

[...] this guy likely broke the rod himself, and is now demonstrating the moral squalor of the Putin regime to everyone.

Meanwhile, a Levada Center poll [en] released on Wednesday found that 53% of Russians approved of Russia holding the Olympic Games in Sochi. However, 38% of respondents also felt that corruption was the main reason for the Games. The RuNet seems to bear out both of these feelings. Many feel that the criticism is justified and necessary, while others (like noted writer Boris Akunin [ru]) think that people should concentrate on supporting the athletes, and ignore the problems.

DemVybor's Kirill Shulika wrote [ru] on his Facebook about the importance of speaking out and criticism. Otherwise, says he:

Проблема-то тут как раз в том, что все разговоры о заговорах и желании навредить в проведении Олимпиады опасны тем, что и дальше все будет то же самое. Я имею в виду гигантские затраты и при этом ржавую воду, отсутствие душа или наличие граждан России, которым в нарушении всего отказано в посещении соревнований, несмотря на купленные билеты.

The problem is precisely that all this talk of conspiracy and desire to do harm to the Olympics is dangerous because afterwards everything will remain the same. I am referring to the huge costs accompanied by rusty water, no showers, or Russian citizens, who in violation of everything have been denied access to events, despite having purchased tickets.

Blogger and Alexey Navalny's second in command, Leonid Volkov, also felt [ru] that negative reactions to criticism were out of line:

Ничего обидного нет ни в @SochiProblems, ничего страшного нет в том, что какие-то вещи не доделаны, и какие-то косяки случаются. Страшна и позорна, невероятно постыдна только неадекватная реакция на иронию – поиск “врагов” и “заговоров”, истории про “журналистов, которые специально отрывают дверные ручки.”

There is nothing offensive in @SochiProblems, nothing horrible in that some some things aren't finished, and there are some screw-ups. What is terrible and shameful is the incredibly shameful and inadequate response to the irony – the search for “enemies” and “conspiracies,” stories about “journalists who deliberately destroy doorknobs.” 

Regardless, he will still watch the Games, said Volkov.

February 02 2014

13 Olympic Memes as Sochi Games Approach

As the Sochi Winter Olympics are fast approaching (the opening ceremony is this coming Saturday), RuNet Echo takes a look back at some of the funnier jokes that the Russian online community made about the logo, the torch, and other Olympic accouterments during the years of preparation for the games.

1. The logo itself has been the butt of various memes, the most ubiquitous of which is its pairing with a “saw” mascot, as a play on the verb “to saw,” a Russian slang term for “embezzlement.” This is, of course, contextualized amid years of accusations of wasteful spending and embezzled funds during the construction process:

The friendly embezzling saw. Anonymous image distributed online.

The friendly embezzling saw. Anonymous image distributed online.

2. A more succinct joke comes at the expense of the easily parodied font:

“A f*cking shame” reads the modified Olympic logo. Anonymous image found online.

3. Another Olympic accusation of corruption — this is one on behalf of Russia's students:

“The Olympic flame burned your stipend” reads the caption of this alternative logo. Anonymous image found online.

4. A 2010 competition to design a mascot to go with the logo, organized by Russia's Olympic committee, resulted in several meme-worthy entrants. This one utilizes the ancient RuNet “Превед медвед” (“Preved medved”) meme. (This meme was at one point so widespread, it has its own KnowYourMeme entry.)

“Preved!” says the bear. Anonymous image distributed online.

5. Bears are an easy sell for Russian-hosted Olympics — ever since the lovable 1980 mascot. This entry into the 2010 contest uses the well known “Pedobear” meme:

Skiing-kuma. Anonymous image distributed online.

Skiing-kuma. Anonymous image distributed online.

6. Fans of Lovecraft had their own approach:

Ktulhu for President (of the Olympics)! Anonymous image distributed online.

Cthulhu for President (of the Olympics)! Anonymous image distributed online.

7. And fans of the classic Soviet kid's cartoon “Cheburashka,” their own (albeit similar):

Cheburashka fhtagn! Anonymous image found online.

Cheburashka fhtagn! Anonymous image found online.

8. The most popular entry (although it later turned out it was part of an astroturf campaign to raise contest popularity) was the Arctic hypno-toad nicknamed Zoich, created by cartoonist Egor Zhgun.

2014 sort of looks like ZOIЧ, a mix of English and Russian characters.

9. The mascots that were eventually selected, drew accusations of plagiarism both from Russia's last Olympics:

“Plagiarism is when you take someone else's thing and make it worse.” One of new mascots side by side with the 1980 Mishka the Bear. Anonymous image found online.

10. And from foreign Olympics:

“F*cking shameful,” reads the caption. Salt Lake Olympic mascots on the right. Anonymous image found online.

11. The Sochi Olympic torch relay, plagued as it was with the flame constantly going out [Global Voices report], also became the butt of jokes. Some pointed out its similarity to a Vodka logo:

“Russian” brand vodka looks suspiciously like the Olympic torch. Anonymous image found online.

12. Others noted the similarities between this bearded relay runner holds his torch, and the way Chechen guerrillas hold their guns:

Olympic terrorists. Anonymous image found online.

Olympic terrorists. Anonymous image found online.

13. Perhaps the harshest meme of them all, this Olympic Bingo sheet has been translated from the Russian original by RuNet Echo. Various versions of the meme are widespread on Russian imageboards and forums. All deal with some form of failure on the part of the Russian hosts. This, folks, is Russian fatalism at its most depressed:

Anonymous image translated by RuNet Echo.

Anonymous image translated by RuNet Echo.

Russians are fond of self deprecation. Hopefully the 2014 Winter games will prove them wrong.

December 24 2013

Emptying Russia's Prisons to Fill the Seats at Sochi 2014

Some of Russia's newly freed, prominent former political prisoners. From left to right, Maria Baronova, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Some of Russia's newly freed, prominent former political prisoners. From left to right, Maria Baronova, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Many Russian bloggers believe that the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi next year played a major role in the amnesty last week that freed both the “Arctic Sunrise” Greenpeace activists and the famous Pussy Riot rockers, as well as the pardon handed down to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who immediately fled Russia to Berlin. Putin, the theory goes, is eager to save face and avoid an Olympic boycott by world leaders, though five of the other seven G8 countries have already indicated that their leaders will not travel to Sochi next February (France, Great Britain, Canada, the United States, and perhaps even Germany).

The Higher School of Economics’ Yulia Galyamina wrote on her Facebook wall:

Путин пытается сделать хорошую мину перед Олимпиадой в Сочи, мотивы его низменны, но несколько свободных человек – это все равно счастье.

Putin is trying to put on a good face before the Olympics in Sochi. His motives are base, but I can think of a few now free, very happy people who couldn't care less about that.

Not everyone embraced the idea that the amnesty and pardon were an effort to rescue the Olympics. Commenting on past rumors that a third set of charges awaits Khodorkovsky and the fact that his mother is elderly and in poor health, Kiril Rogov wrote on Facebook:

Все “третье дело” и болезнь матери – были обыкновенным шантажом, с помощью которого у Ходорковского выбивали согласие на помилование. На кону восе не олимпиада и не возможность широкого жеста под новый год, а – как всегда – деньги.

Everything about a “third trial” and an ill mother was just ordinary blackmail, which [the Kremlin] used to beat Khodorkovsky into submitting to the pardon. At stake was not the Olympics or the possibility of a broad New Year's gesture, but—as always—money.

Oleg Makarenko, blogger fritzmorgen, was also skeptical that Putin freed Khodorkovsky because of the Olympics.

Версия «Олимпиада» представляется мне смешной. На Олимпиаде лозунги «свободу Ходорковскому» популярностью не пользовались бы в любом случае, там протесты будут, в основном, под девизом «слава Содомии»….

Плакаты о Ходорковском на фоне радужных флагов выглядели бы совершенно нелепо. Очевидно, причина не в Олимпиаде.

The “Olympics” version seems ridiculous to me. At the Olympics, slogans advocating “freedom for Khodorkovsky” would not have generated much popularity in any event. There will be protests [in Sochi], but mostly under the slogan: “Glory to Sodomy”….

Posters of Khodorkovsky against the backdrop of rainbow flags would look absolutely ridiculous. Obviously, the reason is not the Olympics.

Makarenko went on to suggest that an anti-corruption crackdown will begin in the spring, after the Olympics in Sochi, and Khodorkovsky’s release is a message to future prisoners that Putin is willing to negotiate.

Kommersant journalist Olga Allenova bemoaned:

Само по себе это освобождение перекроет все нарушения прав человека в РФ, весь беспредел в Сочи, всю жуть на Кавказе, – олимпиада владимировна пройдет под бурные аплодисменты, все приедут, даже француз, а ВВП может спокойно править еще мильен лет, вообще не парясь ни о правах, ни о свободах.

В итоге он опять выигрывает.

Как всегда.

Это просто невероятно, как они научились это делать.

By itself, this release will override all human rights violations in Russia, all the lawlessness in Sochi, all the horror in the Caucasus—the Olympics of Vladimir will be held under a storm of applause, everybody will come, even the Frenchman, and VVP can comfortably rule a million more years, never being bothered about either rights or liberties.

In the end, he wins again.

As always.

It is just unbelievable how they learned to do it.

For his part, Khodorkovsky says he opposes a boycott of the Olympic games, stating:

As to Sochi, my position is that it is a sports festival; it is a festival for millions of people and perhaps we should not spoil it. Another thing is that we should not make it into a personal festival for President Putin — perhaps that would not be right either. However, I would not ruin a festival for millions of people.

Meanwhile, Russia's silver medalist political prisoner, Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, demanded a total boycott of the Olympics, in comments to journalists following her release from prison on December 23, 2013:

Now, however, I am calling for a boycott, for honesty, I am calling for all of us not to sell ourselves for all this oil and gas that Russia can give. I am calling for all humanistic standards, traditions, and regulations to be applied — the norms that Europe is promoting.

The true reasons for Khodorkovsky's sudden release and the amnesty that freed the final two members of Pussy Riot remain a mystery. If the theory is correct that these acts of mercy are tied to a Kremlin effort to salvage “Sochi 2014,” it will be important to watch the next few weeks, to see if any Western leaders change their minds about attending the Winter Games.

November 20 2013

LGBT-Friendly Coloring Books for Russians

Activists from the LGBT equality T-shirt company are planning to send 10,000 copies of a pro-gay coloring book titled “Misha and His Two Mothers” to families with children in Moscow and Sochi, prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics. The book's core message, captured by the catchphrase “Gay Is Okay!” (Гей – окей!), is to let children know that being gay is not criminal. Writing in the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, Angelina Galanina condemned [ru] the coloring book as “propaganda.” RuNet reactions have ranged from the vitriolic to the measured [ru]. LiveJournal user kolyaka [ru] quipped: 

Так примерно во времена железного занавеса к нам проникала запретная литература, тлетворная музыка и даже библии в СССР забрасывали. Как относиться к подобной раскраске? Не знаю.

This is roughly how banned literature, dangerous music, and even the Bible reached us in the days of the Iron Curtain and flooded the USSR. What to make of such a coloring book? I don't know.'s new Russian-English coloring book. T-shirt reads, “Gay is okay!”

October 01 2013

Dark Humor Reigns As Russia's Winter Olympics City Floods

A YouTube user films himself amidst Sochi city officials' post-rainfall cleanup efforts, 26 September 2013, screen capture.

A YouTube user films himself amidst Sochi city officials’ post-rainfall cleanup efforts, 26 September 2013, screen capture.

Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, was hit by massive flooding last week, just as the International Olympic Committee wrapped up its final inspection visit. On the virtual side of things, videos and photos of the storm's damage soon inundated the Russian Internet, where bloggers raised yet another round of complaints about the Olympics’ injury both to the area's environment and the nation’s budget.

Popular LiveJournal user Andrei Malgin posted a few photos of the flooding on his blog [ru] with a short summary from the online news site, receiving nearly 100 comments.

One of Malgin's readers observed [ru]:

Пожарные машины откачивают воду с центральных улиц.

и куда откачивают, интересно?

Fire trucks drained the water from the central streets.

And where did they pump it, I wonder?

Another reader joked [ru] in response:

На центральные площади

Into the central squares.

LiveJournal user antirobot_idiot mocked the incompetence of the local authorities, writing [ru]:

утрамбовывают ее в дома жителей

They rammed it into people’s homes.

Claiming to be a longtime Sochi resident, LJ user frauava bemoaned [ru]:

Все, что могли, нарушили. Я давно живу в Сочи – ТАКОГО не было никогда. ТАКИХ смерчей никто здесь не припомнит. НГарод горько шутит, что теперь они сгоняют тучи, чтобы на Красной Поляне смог выпасть снег к ОИ.

[The authorities] broke everything they could. I have lived in Sochi for a long time, and it was never like THIS before. Nobody here remembers windstorms like THIS. The people are now joking bitterly that they're driving the storm clouds to Krasnaya Polyana [the Olympic alpine resort], in order to get snow to fall at the Olympic Games.

Egor Grys, another blogger claiming to hail from Sochi, confirmed that the city rarely sees so much rainfall in September. He suggests that some of the construction for the Olympics is at least partly to blame for the flooding:

на самом деле город расположен вдоль узкой полоски берега, и вода с гор, по рекам должна быстро беспрепятственно стекать в море. возможно, массированная застройка этой полосы привела к ухудшению условий поверхностного стока воды.

In fact, the city is located on a narrow strip of shore, and water from the mountains should drain quickly and freely into the sea. It's possible that all the massive construction on this strip led to a deterioration of the conditions of water drainage on the surface.

In an interview with English-language daily The Moscow Times, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov alleged [en] that “the floods might have been triggered by a drastic change in the climate recently, which was in turn provoked by environmental damage caused by all the construction.”

On his Facebook wall (in a post that attracted 281 “likes” and 47 “shares”), journalist Yevgeny Levkovich suggested satirically [ru] that the flooding was punishment from God for the sins of Putin’s government, including mass theft, the ecological destruction caused by Olympic site construction, the Circassian Genocide, and Putin's recent divorce. 

Blogger Igor Nemov alleged [ru] that local officials and builders are celebrating the flooding because of the opportunity the damage presents for repair work and new state contracts.

Эх, сейчас в честь наводнения в Сочи, наверняка местные чиновники и строители откупорили бутылочки элитного коньяка и шампанского. Это просто праздник какой-то для них.

Ah, in honor of the floods in Sochi, local officials and builders have surely uncorked bottles of fancy cognac and champagne. This is just a holiday for them.

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee's visit to Sochi was declared a success [en] by Jean-Claude Killy, the delegation's leader and a former Olympic skier. “Our impression is unanimous, everything is very impressive,” he said.

September 06 2012

Oscar Pistorius and the Paralympic #Bladegate Controversy

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

South African double amputee and the first athlete to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics Games in the same year, Oscar Pistorius, attracted attention after being beaten to second place in the T44 200 metre men’s final. He had previously set a new world record in the men's T44 200 metre heats.

Ten Percent or Less blog explains how afterwards the athlete, a specialist in the 100 metre, 200 metre and the one-lap 400 metre, stated this of the winner Brazilian Alan Oliveira:

I can't compete with Alan's stride length……it's very clear that the guys have got very long strides

Oscar Pistorius congratulates Brazil's Alan Oliveira after he won the Paralympic T44 200 metres at the London Paralympic games. The favourite Oscar Pistorius came in only second after the world record in the qualification heat. Image by Mauro Ujetto, copyright Demotix (02/09/12).

Oscar Pistorius congratulates Brazil's Alan Oliveira after he won the Paralympic T44 200 metres at the London Paralympic games. The favourite Oscar Pistorius came in only second after the world record in the qualification heat. Image by Mauro Ujetto, copyright Demotix (02/09/12).

The blogger earlier gave an introduction of what Oscar Pistorius had previously achieved:

So much of the Olympic and Paralympic coverage has been centered around the ‘Blade Runner', Oscar Pistorius. He was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics and in no way was he just making up the numbers, reaching the 400m semi-finals and 4×400m final. Considering the fact he competes with, and beats able-bodied athletes it's understandable that he's always a favourite for any race he enters limited to athletes with below knee amputations.

Going on to give a detailed breakdown of why Pistorius was wrong in making that statement against Oliveira:

Firstly this just isn't the case. Pistorius took 92 strides (49 in the first 100m, 43 in the second), Oliveira took 98 (52 in the first 100m, 46 in the second). Pistorius' stides are actually longer than Oliveira's, it's Oliveira who can't compete with Pistorius' stride length.

Secondly Pistorius stated “the guys' legs are unbelievably long”, an issue Pistorius says he brought up with the IPC weeks before the games. The IPC has a formula to limit the length of blades based on what they estimate the athlete's height would be if they had both legs. Oliveira's blades are completely legal, falling within the measurements allowed by the IPC. Pistorius could actually lengthen his blades if he wished so I'm not entirely sure why he believes Oliveira's blade length is unfair.

Another point to consider is how 'slow' Pistorius ran rather than how ‘fast' Oliveira did. Pistorius covered the 200m distance 0.28 seconds slower than he did the previous day, 21.30 seconds (a new world record) compared to 21.58. Were the comments following the race a result of disappointment from a tired athlete? It's entirely possible, Pistorius running a much slower final would certainly suggest that. Let's not forget Oliveira has been able to prepare specifically for the Paralympics while Pistorius has been competing far more over the last month as well as dealing with substantially more media commitments.

MakeMeaDiva Blog in a post titled “Oscar Pistorius #Bladegate” states:

In case you’ve been on Mars for the last 24 hours, #Bladegate refers to the T44 category 200m final at the Paralympics last night, where Pistorius was narrowly beaten into second place by the Brazilian athlete Alan Oliveira. Pistorius was not expecting to be beaten. Once into the home straight he was in splendid isolation with only the wind for company… until the last 10 metres. Oliveira came roaring up the outside to take the gold medal on the line.”

In case you’ve been on Mars for the last 24 hours, #Bladegate refers to the T44 category 200m final at the Paralympics last night, where Pistorius was narrowly beaten into second place by the Brazilian athlete Alan Oliveira.

Pistorius was not expecting to be beaten. Once into the home straight he was in splendid isolation with only the wind for company… until the last 10 metres. Oliveira came roaring up the outside to take the gold medal on the line.

Still, Pistorius’s remarks were clearly mistimed and made in the heat of the moment; by this morning his head was in back in charge and he made a more measured statement. He still maintained his concern about the fairness of the blades used by his conqueror in the race in his conclusion, saying:

I do believe that there is an issue here and I welcome the opportunity to discuss with the IPC but I accept that raising these concerns immediately as I stepped off the track was wrong. I am a proud Paralympian and believe in the fairness of sport. I am happy to work with the IPC who obviously share these aims.

There are more details explaining why Oliveira beat Pistorius:

The longer blades do cause athletes to have a slower start, Oliveira was left standing when the gun went off last night and was racing well in arrears, but down the straight the longer blades store more elastic energy allowing the athlete to maintain speed whilst using less energy than someone on shorter ones, like Pistorius… This is probably because the longer blades do give you an advantage in the straight, but this offset by running more slowly at the start and whilst runnning the bend. It’s down to the athlete which tactics they want to employ. Oliveira and his team, by switching to the longer blades only three weeks ago, took a gamble. It paid off, just. Pistorius’s gamble was running a very fast half of the race, he then paid for attacking the first 100m by having to slow down a bit in the closing stages. His gamble did not pay off, but again, it was so close. This would have only made it worse from his point of view.

Pistorius raced on the blades he ran on in the Olympics. Under the rule book he too could go for longer blades – his maximum permitted height on racing blades, as things stand, would take him to 193 cm tall. His current blades means he stands 184 cm. He could add an extra 9 cm to his height and this would mean if Oliveira stuck with his current prostheses at 181 cm, Pistorius could gain a 12 cm height advantage over his rival. Of course, it is not standing taller that necessarily gives the advantage, it is the longer blade being used, and that advantage has to be traded off against the slower start.

The current rules also seem to allow for a huge differential in blade lengths – after all Pistorius could legally add up to 9 cm to his racing blades. He might regret not switching to longer blades in the Paralympics now, but as an athlete who has battled so hard to prove that his blades do not give him a mechanical advantage over a non-Paralympic athlete you can see why he stuck with his Olympic-approved ones.

Oscar Pistorius will be humbled by the defeat and rue the missed chances of holding both the world record and a Paralympics Games gold. But as a Swahili saying puts it, “Asiyekubali kushindwa si mshindani” (Whoever refuses to accept defeat is no worthy competitor).

And on Wednesday 5 September, Pistorius bounced back to help the 4 x 100 metre relay team win gold and break the world record in the T42/46 final. Here are some of the reactions on Twitter on their performance:

@kingsleyhead : Great relay run, no excuses, Pistorius both expected and saw the opposition this time round #oscarpistorius

@montgomeryotter : Personally I no longer care what #OscarPistorius does. He is only sporting when he wins. He could learn a lot from losing more often.

@AlUtaHitchcock : @ESPNUK how can you cast the same dark shadow that was casted on you, on a fellow fighter of adversaries#OscarPistorius

@ABiVanWykSep : @Paralympic Go #OscarPistorius we are proud of u in SA#Paralympics

@WARRIORCHAMPION : Congratulations #OscarPistorius and the South African relay team for winning Gold in the 4×100m relay at the London…

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

September 03 2012

Germany: Improve Reporting on Disabled People

It ought to become something understood in the language that disabled people do things not in spite of or because of, but with their disabilities.

During the Paralympics in London there have been more and more reports on “against-it-all people” or “supercripples” in the media. explains how to get the tone right.

2012 Paralympics: A Successful Start, Remarkable Stories

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

[All links forward to French articles unless otherwise stated] 

From August 29 until September 12, 2012, 4,200 athletes from 166 countries will take part in the 14th edition of the Paralympic Games in London and compete in twenty disciplines .

Here is a video presenting the Paralympic Games by  paralympicSportTv [en]:

The organizers needed 15 days after the London 2012 Olympics to rearrange and make infrastructure accessible.

Charles El Meliani on JOL press writes that a record number of tickets were sold for these games:

Londres a fait des efforts colossaux en matière de billetterie, mettant sans cesse en avant les Jeux paralympiques dans tous ses points de vente. Avec un résultat impressionnant : au total, ce sont déjà près de 2,3 millions de tickets qui ont trouvé preneur. Sur 2,5 millions mis en vente. En bref, ces Jeux pourraient bien se dérouler à guichets fermés : exceptionnel.

London has put forward tremendous efforts in terms of ticketing and exposure, consistently showcasing the Paralympics in all of its vending outlets. The results are impressive: in total, almost 2.3 million tickets have already been sold out of the total 2.5 million initially planned. This games could very well be a sellout:  just amazing.
The Burkina Faso delegation during the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games

The Burkina Faso delegation during the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games. Screenshot of a video of the ceremony provided by paralympicSportTv

The competing athletes are not all born with disabilities. Jacqueline Mallet on the blog ‘Province de l'équateur' explains and illustrates some remarkable stories in the following post ‘“I was given up for dead”: the incredible destiny of disabled athletes‘:

Certains de ces sportifs ont grandi avec leur handicap, tandis que d’autres ont dû apprendre à le surmonter à la suite d’une guerre ou d’un accident. Frappés par le destin, ils ont trouvé dans le sport un moyen de se reconstruire.

Some of these athletes have grown with their disabilities, while others have had to learn to overcome it as a result of war wounds or accidents. Struck by fate, they found in sport a way to rebuild themselves.

Mallet also writes about the journey of several athletes: Martine Wright, a survivor of the London bombings; Derek Derenalagi, a soldier born in Fiji, given up for dead; Rim Ju Song, the first North Korean participant who, a few months ago, could not swim; and Hassiem Achmat, who survived a shark attack.

Another blog post entitled ‘A war mutilated Afghan en route to the London Games …‘ shares the story of Malek Mohammad, an Afghan athlete who lost both his legs in 2005 when he stepped on a land mine near his home in Kabul.

Afghan swimmer Malek Mohamed at home before the Paralympic Games.

Afghan swimmer Malek Mohamed at home before the Paralympic Games. Screenshot of a video of Malek Mohamed provided by AFP on Youtube

In the blog post ‘Once a war victim, now a paralympic hero‘ [en], Damon van der Linde in Freetown, Sierra Leone, tells us about  the story of Mohamed Kamara who was only four years old when he was captured by rebels during the civil war. They eventually cut off one of his arms during his captivity.

On the France Handicap Info website,  Stéphane Lagoutière writes:

L'autre grande star de ces jeux seront bien sur les déficients mentaux, avec un retour après 12 ans d'absence.

Of course, the other big events of these games will be the return of the mentally challenged to the paralympic Games, the athletes are back 12 years after they last took part in the games.

In France, only a regional television channel will broadcast all of the events.

On Twitter, user @ThePositive1 posted a picture of the Jamaican team.

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

August 31 2012

Paralympic Games Kick Off in London

This post is part of our special coverage of the London 2012 Olympics.  

After hosting a most memorable Olympics, the British capital city of London welcomed the world's Paralympians for what is claimed to be the biggest Paralympics Games ever. Though the Games may not be able to rival their able-bodied ones in terms of hype and coverage, there are still many conversations going on online focusing in the event.

Leggotunglei starts by giving a historical background of how the Paralympics Games came about:

 In 1948, a hospital outside London witnessed the birth of the Paralympic movement, as a Jewish doctor who had fled Nazi Germany sought to change the lives of patients with spinal injuries — and inspire new hope in them through sport. The first “Stoke Mandeville Games” were organized in 1948 to coincide with the London Olympics, the second to be held in Britain.

Adam Lancia is blocked by Shingo Gujii during the preliminary group B wheelchair basketball match between Canada and Japan. Image by Clive Chilvers, copyright Demotix (30/08/12).

Adam Lancia is blocked by Shingo Gujii during the preliminary group B wheelchair basketball match between Canada and Japan. Image by Clive Chilvers, copyright Demotix (30/08/12).

The blogger continues:

In 1956, a “statement of intent” was unveiled for the Games, which were by this time international, according to to the Mandeville Legacy website run by the local authority. It read: “The aim of the Stoke Mandeville Games is to unite paralyzed men and women from all parts of the world in an international sports movement, and your spirit of true sportsmanship today will give hope and inspiration to thousands of paralyzed people.” Four years later, inspired by Guttmann’s vision, the first official Paralympic Games were held in Rome in tandem with the Olympics. And five decades on, some 4,280 Paralympians from 165 countries — the largest number ever — have returned to Britain to compete in what is now the premier international sporting event for those born with disabilities, or disabled by injury or illness.

Voices of Russia says this about the opening ceremony of the Games:

On Wednesday night, the opening ceremony for the 14th Summer Paralympic Games was held at London’s Olympic Park, and who better to help welcome the Paralympians than a scientist who showed the world that physical limitations don’t limit human potential? “Enlightenment” was the theme, physicist Stephen Hawking the guide, and Olympic Stadium the venue, as London welcomed 4,200 athletes from 166 nations and territories to the 2012 Paralympic Games. The extravaganza, directed by Bradley Hemmings and Jenny Sealey, included 73 deaf and disabled professional performers and 68 disabled people among its 3,250 volunteers.

It also notes Queen Elizabeth II's role in opening both the Olympics and Paralympics - a first for any British monarch:

Sir Philip CravenPresident of the International Paralympic Committee, welcomed the Queen before members of the British forces carried the Union Flag into the stadium. It’s the first time a British monarch officiated at the openings of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In a statement released before she opened the Games, the Queen said, “It’s with tremendous pride that the people of London and the United Kingdom welcome the world to the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The Games are returning to the country where they first began, more than 60 years ago”.

JideSaluDiary blog from Nigeria captures Africa's biggest economy participation in the Paralympic Games:

The London Paralympic Games opened on Wednesday night and Nigeria was represented. It is set to be an inspiring 11 days of watching deformed, turned athletes show the world that nothing is impossible. It was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who said “you can’t win unless you learn how to lose”. These Athletes have suffered deformity that would have any killed abled-body, however, they have learnt to come to terms with their loss. Basically, these Athletes have learnt to lose. I am looking forward to watching  blind footballers play 5 a-side football. I have also found out that there is wheel chair Rugby, how about that….wheel chair rugby, huh! There also will be one legged swimmers, as well as amputee Volleyball players competing like its normal. I know that, after this paralympic games, my challenges will become insignificant.

Nigerian weightlifter Yakubu Adesokan opened the medal score for African countries by giving Nigeria its first gold - in power-lifting. This is a performance that bettered even the able-bodied athletes' Olympic achievements from Nigeria. Here are a few reactions on Twitter from Nigerians:

@BolaAnt: Well done to Yakubu Adesokan!! Doing what Nigeria's useless Olympic athletes couldn't do by winning gold! #Paralympics

@lophytee: Yakubu Adesokan wins first gold for Nigeria at the Paralympic Games, breaks world

 @NigeriaNewsdesk: Yakubu Adesokan wins first gold for Nigeria at the Paralympic Games, breaks world record

@MoshdaBoss: Yakubu Adesokan wins first gold for Nigeria at the Paralympic Games, breaks world record….Able bodied athletes go and hide o….chai!!!

@OcupyNigeria: Yakubu Adesokan wins first gold for Nigeria at the Paralympic Games, breaks world

As the Games continue, there will be plenty of action for countries especially those from Africa to expect medals. To sum up, we revert to LeggoTunglei blog:

Athletes from other nations will similarly dazzle and inspire those around them, as they overcome all odds to take home medals. From its humble beginnings in Stoke Mandeville, the place which also lends its name to one of the one-eyed London 2012 mascots, the Paralympic movement has come a long way. But in its commitment to bringing people together to test and celebrate what they can do, rather than what they cannot, its core spirit has remained unchanged.

This post is part of our special coverage of the London 2012 Olympics.  


August 18 2012

The South Caucasus at the 2012 Olympics

Arsen Julfalakyan of Armenia, Roman Vlasov of Russia, Aleksandr Kazakevic of Lithuania and Emin Ahmadov of Azerbaijan after the Men's Greco-Roman 74 kg Wrestling match/ via London 2012

The three South Caucasus countries have been participating  independently in the Olympics since 1996, and they each followed up their records in Beijing this summer in London to walk away with gold, silver and bronze in the physically strenuous activities the region generally excels in, much to the enjoyment of fans and fellow country men and women.

Armenia walked away with one silver and bronze in Men's Greco-Roman wrestling and a surprise bronze medal in women's weightlifting by Hripsime Khurshudyan, which caused a flurry of social media activity. The win even elicited a comment, albeit in transliterated Armenian, from  a member of America's most famous Armenian family, the Kardashians.

@RobKardashian: Yes shat hupart yev uraxem mer bolor Hye marsiknerits vor masnaktsumen 2012 tvi Olympiadayum. #Armenia

 ”I am very proud and happy with all of our Armenian athletes who are participating in the 2012 Olympics.”

@RobKardashian: Armenian Woman KHURSHUDYAN just medaled in Women's Weightlifting (Clean & Jerk)! #ArmenianPride#LondonOlympics2012

Azerbaijan on the other hand took 10 medals home, including two gold in men's freestyle wrestling by Toghrul Asgarov and Sharif Sharifov. This year's Eurovision host country also earned two silver (both in wrestling) and six bronze (wrestling, weightlifting and boxing).

@Farida_Aliyeva: London brought us luck! Azerbaijan got its greatest number of medals - 10 with 2 gold, 2 silver and 6 bronze. #Azerbaijan #AZE#Olympics

@RogerMamedov:  #Azerbaijan wrestling team did really in the Olympics. Maybe now people will know where I'm from.

Georgia won seven medals, with three silver and three bronze (all of them in wrestling) and one gold in Judo, thanks to Lasha Shavdatuashvili

@MirianJugheli: 20-year old Judoist Lasha Shavdatuashvili becomes an olympic champion! #georgia #caucasus #tbilisi #judo #london2012

The Caucasus Tumblr, in a photo montage and round up of the Olympics made an astute observation based on Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia's superior abilities in strength sports:

Never ever, under no circumstances pick up a street fight in the Caucasus.

Athletes with South and North Caucasian descent also participated in London 2012 for Russia as the tumblr notes. Three of Russia's gold medals in judo were won by Tagir Khaybulaev, Mansur Mustafaevich Isaev , both ethnic Avars and Arsen Galstyan, an ethnic Armenian.
The wins prompted an “outpouring of hate from Russian nationalists,” wrote Global Voices author Andrey Tselikov in a post titled, “Russia: The Ugly Side of Olympic Nationalism.”
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