The Moscow 1980 and Sochi 2014 Olympic Games: Dissent and Repression
The Olympic Games of 1980 and 2014 present a case study in the hosting of sport mega-events by repressive regimes. In both cases, the authoritarian government sought hosting rights in order to enhance their own legitimacy, an aim that was largely met at home but at the cost of incurring damaging criticism abroad about human rights violations. In both cases, the Games sparked debates about how sporting events could be most effectively used to improve human rights overall. These debates revolved around familiar poles: on the one hand, claims that the events could help spur reform, and on the other hand, the argument that hosting would lead to heightened abuses. In 1980 even before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan triggered a large- scale boycott, some voices in Western Europe and the United States were arguing that Moscow should be spurned because of the Soviet Union’s record of repression. In 2014 though some boycott calls were made, boycotting seemed a less compelling tactic. Instead, reformers hoped to achieve results through public pressure. In the final tally, the results of both Games suggest that sports mega-events in repressive regimes are likely to lead to more repression.