By Rachel Denber, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Rachel Denber is deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. You can follow her
@Rachel_Denber. The views expressed are her own.
The countdown to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi is officially under way. Exactly one year from today a colossal project few thought possible in 2007 – building a state-of-the-art winter sports venue in the Caucasus mountains and the on the subtropical Black Sea coast – will become reality. If past Olympic Games are any guide, just about every week in the coming year will bring a new reminder of what lies ahead. I’m a winter sports nut, an Olympics true believer, and besotted Russophile who’s been working on Russia for more than 20 years, so for me personally it’s a very exciting countdown.
But for these two decades my work on Russia has been to monitor human rights developments – and the past year has been singularly horrid in terms of human rights here, with each month bringing a new, restrictive law or political smear campaign against government critics, or absurd trial or shocking arrest, or depraved threat against colleagues in the human rights movement. It’s been a countdown not to something new and exciting, but to the grim Soviet past.
By Elizabeth Economy, CFR
Editor's note: Elizabeth Economy is C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Asia Unbound originally appeared here. The views expressed are those of the author.
The Chinese currently stand second in the Olympic medals table – in both gold and overall – but you would never know it from what’s going on in their media. Of course, there’s celebration of the country’s athletes. Yet the flawless performances of the Chinese divers and spectacular achievements of the Chinese male gymnasts are in danger of being drowned out by a torrent of commentary focused on what the games mean for China as a society and for its place in the world. Some of the commentary is lamenting, some angry, and still other searching.
Some Chinese are concerned that the cost of an Olympic gold is too great, both literally and figuratively. People have reportedly calculated the financial cost of swimmer Sun Yang’s two years of gold medal-worthy training at approximately $1.57 million. Not a small sum in a country where per capita income still tops out at roughly $7,500. At the same time, the stories of Chinese athletes living away from their families for years – missing deaths, illnesses, and family celebrations – in state-run training centers also raise questions for some Chinese as to whether gold medal mania is a worthy substitute for the to and fro of daily life. Then, inevitably, there are those who are worried about the enormous pressure placed on state-supported Chinese athletes, such as the weight lifter Wu Jingbiao, the gold medal favorite in his event, who broke down in tears and apologized to his country after winning a silver medal.
By Fareed Zakaria
I’ve been in London this week, and I couldn’t help but catch the Olympics bug. The Games are the ultimate meritocracy – or so it seems. But why do some countries win lots of medals? Do they have more talented people than others? We’ve spent some time looking at the data.
A few trends are clear.
Countries with large populations tend to do well. Logic suggests that the more people you have, the more likely you are to have a few excellent athletes. In the 2008 Beijing Games, China was the runaway leader with 51 gold medals. The United States came second, but it won the most medals overall with 110. The two countries are of course among the three most populous in the world.
By Julia Bredtmann, Carsten J. Crede and Sebastian Otten
Editor’s note: Julia Bredtmann, Carsten Crede and Sebastian Otten are researchers in economics at the Ruhr University Bochum, Germany. The views expressed are solely those of the authors.
The world’s biggest sporting event, this year involving athletes from more than 200 nations, officially opens in London today. But while much of the focus will be on the feats of individuals over the next 17 days, there’s always another competition going on too – the one between countries for the most Olympic medals.
In the lead up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China dedicated more than $4.5 billion to supporting sports in an effort to supplant the United States as the world’s sporting superpower. Similarly, as the Economist noted back in 2008, the British government has ramped up spending by investing in and supporting its elite athletes. But is Olympic glory all about the money?
By Isobel Coleman, CFR
Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Democracy in Development originally appeared here.
This is the summer of the female Olympian. For the first time, every nation competing will have a woman on its team. In an important milestone, the United States is sending more women than men to compete in London. Even the conservative Islamic state of Saudi Arabia is allowing women to participate.
Let’s appreciate that it’s taken women more than a century of struggle to reach this point.
During the first modern Olympics in 1896, women were completely barred from competition. Still, a Greek woman named Stamata Revithi decided to unofficially run the marathon anyway, finishing in five and a half hours. (Revithi was truly at the vanguard of women’s running – women didn’t compete in Olympic marathons until 1984).
Related: Opening heart, opening wallet
What do you think? Do sports and politics mix? How does one influence the other? Share your thoughts below.
Editor's Note: Kenneth Rogoff is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University, and was formerly chief economist at the IMF. For more from Rogoff, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Kenneth Rogoff.
By Kenneth Rogoff, Project Syndicate
The biggest news around Cambridge in recent weeks has been Jeremy Lin, the Harvard economics graduate who has shocked the National Basketball Association by rising overnight from “nowhere” to become a genuine star, leading a losing New York Knicks team to an unlikely string of victories.
Lin’s success is delicious, partly because it contradicts so many cultural prejudices about Asian-American athletes. Flabbergasted experts who overlooked Lin have been saying things like “he just didn’t look the part.” Lin’s obvious integrity and graciousness has won him fans outside the sport as well. The whole world has taken note, with Lin being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated for two consecutive issues. The NBA, which has been trying to build brand recognition and interest in China, is thrilled. FULL POST
Editor's note: Victor Cha is senior adviser and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (@CSIS_org), a Washington-based bipartisan think tank, and author of "Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia."
By Victor Cha - Special to CNN
Jeremy Lin, the benchwarmer-turned-star starting point guard for the New York Knicks, has powered his team to eight victories in nine games, and captured the imagination of people around the world.
Who could resist this story? It's role model, underdog and the unconventional star all rolled into one....
In China, nearly a million and a half microblogging messages posted recently mention Asian basketball sensation Jeremy Lin, The New York Times reported, marking a groundswell of interest in the latest sports phenomenon.
The 6-foot-3-inch point guard was mostly sidelined by his New York Knicks basketball team until a recent chance opportunity on courtshot him to stardom a week and a half ago. Lin has now scored a stunning 27 points and 11 assists over a six-game stretch, including athree-pointer in the final moments of a tight New York Knicks vs. Toronto Raptors game on Tuesday night that secured the Knicks another team win.
But basketball's latest wonderboy may now find himself caught in a competition of a different sort, as both China and Taiwan seek to claim the Asian-American as one of their own. Lin's parents were born in Taiwan, but Communist Party officials in China claim his origins lie in the eastern Chinese city of Jiaxing. FULL POST
Editor's Note: Alastair Smith is a professor of politics at NYU, and is co-author of The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Alastair Smith.
By Alastair Smith – Special to CNN
Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA (soccer’s world governing body), is in trouble again. This time, he made insensitive comments denying racism in soccer. FIFA needs a shake up in its governance if it is not to remain an embarrassment to the 'beautiful game'.
One might suspect that racially insensitive comments would be career ending for the head of a high profile multinational sports federation, but they are not. Indeed Blatter told the BBC that “I cannot resign” and he portrays his decision to apologize and to stay on as one of moral courage. His position is secure and already his cronies are rallying around him. His survival is ensured by FIFA’s governance structure. FULL POST
What was billed as the "China-U.S. Basketball Friendship Match" proved to be anything but. The match between Georgetown University's Hoyas and the Bayi professional team affiliated with the People's Liberation Army devolved into sheer chaos Thursday night.
The brawl ended when the Hoyas' coach halted the game and led his team off the court. The details remain murky, but disturbing images and video show at least one Chinese team member repeatedly punching a Georgetown player in the chest.
By Dean Irvine, CNN
The traditional "stomping of the divots" during a polo match brings the watching crowd with their colorful mix of hats, heels and outfits onto the field to repair the galloped-upon turf.
The inaugural Goldin Gold Cup match was no different, but instead of a manicured lawn in southern England or pasture in Argentina, the stomping earlier this month was on a field in Northeast China on the outskirts of Tianjin, a city of over 12 million.
As golf loses its luster as a marker for wealth and status in China, polo and equestrian events are being groomed as the new exclusive pursuit for the country's super rich.
Polo clubs have been in China since 2004, but the operation in Tianjin is just the latest, and currently most opulent, of the new clubs embracing horse sports as a way to corral China's "high net worth individuals."