The Olympics in Russia and all of its Controversy (Blog 3 for Jour 4460)

By: Megan Wardlaw

With the Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia this year, there has been a lot of conflicting views toward the location of the event. Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, had no problem spending about $51 billion to have the sporting event held in his country. The hefty price tag will make this years’ Olympics the most expensive ever held. Many Russians hope this Winter Olympics will help their country be seen as more of a tourist destination.

To get a feel for what many people think about the location of this years’ Winter Olympics, all you have to do is do a few Google searches, without even clicking search. All it takes is reading what shows up in the autocomplete box. To give you an idea, in the search box, type in “why is Russia.” Results, such as “why is Russia homophobic” and “why is Russia so crazy” are among the top results. On the other hand, if you type in “Putin,” a couple of the top results are “putin is gay” and “putin is evil.”

Picture Credit: Google Search

Picture Credit: Google Search

Many are fearful for the safety of people who attend this year’s Olympics. One of these fears is for possible suicide bombers because of how often they occur in Russia. Sochi has been prepared for potential threats, with a vast array of defense mechanisms.

But to what extent will Russia’s security go to? Are they prepared enough? Let’s hope they are. If the Olympics in Sochi are a success, Russia may actually start to be seen in a more positive light and could actually see an increase in tourists. If everything is a success that means that Russia’s PR team did a good job in putting a spotlight on their country.

Much of the controversy that has come up in Russia stems from the country’s issue of homosexuality. For example, Russia has a law which bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” Putin also said that, in order to increase the number of births in Russia, they need to “cleanse” the country of homosexuality. To top off the Russia’s issue of homosexuality, Anatoly Pakhomov, the Sochi mayor, made claims that no gay people live in his city.

For decades now, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola have been sponsors for the Olympics. Now, even sponsors are being affected by Russia’s anti-gay law. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists have been pouring Coca-Cola out into the streets. Coca-Cola eventually had to shut down a feature in one of its websites, where massages could be written on virtual cans of coke to cheer on the athletes. As LGBT activists began writing messages to protest on the cans, they quickly realized that any word related to homosexuality were not being permitted.

McDonald’s also encountered backlash. One of the company’s Twitter campaigns’ #CheerstoSochi, turned into a setting for the transmittal of information about arrests and assaults of protestors.

Picture Credit: Coca-Cola and McDonald’s will be sponsoring another Olympics.

Both Coca-Cola and McDonald’s ended up having to issue statements to the activists.

Coca-Cola’s statement went as followed: “The name and message auto-generator on our South Africa “Share A Coke” website would not accept the word “Gay”, but did accept the word “Straight”. This isn’t how the program was supposed to work, and we’ve pulled the site down until we can fix the problem.”

“We apologize for this mistake. As one of the world’s most inclusive brands, we value and celebrate diversity. We have long been a strong supporter of the LGBT community and have advocated for inclusion, equality and diversity through both our policies and practices.”

Similarly, McDonalds’s statement went as followed: “We are aware that some activists are targeting Olympic sponsors to voice the concerns regarding the Russia LGBT legislation. McDonald’s supports human rights, the spirit of the Olympics and all the athletes who’ve worked so hard to compete in the Games. We believe the Olympic Games should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and athletes.”

Will these two statements be enough to satisfy all the protestors, when so many of them feel that anyone that supports the Olympics in Sochi is also in support of the anti-gay law? Unfortunately for the sponsors, I think that their statement may not be enough and that the backlash against these companies could last even after this years’ Olympics. I think it’s time for the public relations’ teams of these companies to step up and think of ways to make it up to their customers and prove that they really are sorry for any distress they have caused. Small, apologetic statements may seem insignificant to people who feel that their way of life is being infringed upon.

I look forward to being a future public relations’ professional in the United States, where even though we all have different views and opinions, we are at least taught to be ethical and to stay unbiased.

Works Cited:
Laird, Sam. “Google Autocomplete Explains the Winter Olympics.” Mashable. N.p., 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.
Markowicz, Karol. “Russia Olympics in the Toilet before Games begin.” New York Post. N.p., 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.
Wilson, Matt. “Sponsoring Sochi Olympics Turns into Minefield for Big Brands.” PR Daily News: Public Relations News and Marketing in the Age of Social Media. N.p., 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.


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