Sport

Fennell applauds Sochi Games

JOA boss admits geo-political considerations influenced negative publicity

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editior at large, South Central Bureau

Friday, February 28, 2014    

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — President of the Jamaica Olympic Association Mike Fennell has hailed Russia's hosting of the recent Olympic Winter Games in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi as "excellent".

Fennell told a Mandeville Rotary Club meeting at the Golf View Hotel on Tuesday that despite negative publicity in the build-up to the Games and predictions of doom from some quarters, many world leaders at the end hailed the Sochi Games as "the best ever".

"I am here to tell you that my experience there was very favourable, in terms of how everything was arranged," said Fennell.

In a question-and-answer session that followed his address to the Rotarians, Fennell said he believed attitudes caused by current geo-political rivalries in eastern Europe between Russia on the one hand, and the United States and other western powers on the other, contributed to much of the negativity.

"Yes," was his direct answer to a question from the floor as to whether he thought an "almost Cold War era" approach to the current geo-political rivalry had triggered hostility towards Russia.

Analysts have framed the current turmoil in Russia's neighbour, Ukraine (a former republic of the disbanded Soviet Union which had Russia at its centre) and the unseating of that country's government led by Victor Yanukovych — described as an ally of Russia — in the context of that rivalry.

"As you know you can't separate entirely sports from politics and the Olympic games is such an important event worldwide, whether it is the Summer Games or the Winter Games that it becomes a powerful tool," said Fennell.

"Whenever you have a powerful tool it is a tool that politicians use, and not just politicians but various do-gooders who want to use it to prove a point etc, so as a result of that, the games are used, and the athletes are used... we (Olympic movement) try to prevent it (but) let's not be silly, you cant prevent it entirely," said Fennell.

He claimed Russian president Vladimir Putin's "hands on approach" had contributed to the success of the Sochi Winter Games, but he suggested Putin's enemies had sought to attack and criticise his role.

But according to Fennell, Putin had proven himself to be an "outstanding leader", especially in the context of the Sochi Games.

"You may not agree with everything that he does, but he is an outstanding leader... now there are other things about Putin's behaviour that I don't like and there are things that he will do, but that's his bag. There are many things that we do that other people don't like either... I say give credit to the man. I don't know if history will absolve him, but you cannot deny that the Games have left a fantastic legacy for the people of Russia and particularly for the people in Sochi," said Fennell.

Fennell noted that perceived anti-gay attitudes and laws in Russia had influenced bad publicity in the Western press. Also, he pointed out, terrorist bombings in Russia in the build-up to the Winter Olympics had heightened security concerns.

However, he noted that security at the Games was of the highest standard with "seamless" entry and exit arrangements.

Regarding criticism of Russia's US$50 billion spend on the Winter Olympics, Fennell said it was misleading since the bulk of the money had gone to infrastructure and the establishment of a modern winter resort.

"Russia spent $50 billion there but they spent it on hotels , roads into the mountains, a cable car system (linking the coastal resort to winter sport facilities in the mountains)," he said. "The legacy is there (in terms of) a fantastic mountain resort for tourism and winter tourism in Russia... their economists will tell them whether that investment is worth it or not (but) they hosted the games in impeccable fashion," said Fennell.

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