Russia’s anti-Olympics turns into Soviet-style joke

The Bell

Around the world sports fans are tucking into a summer of top-quality competitions. The Euro 2024 and Copa America football tournaments are underway, to be followed by the Paris Olympics which kicks off next month. Russia is not competing in any of them, banned from both Uefa football competitions and from competing as a nation at the Olympics (though some Russian athletes will go to Paris and compete under a neutral flag.) The Russian authorities have instead tried to set up an alternative to the Olympics — the BRICS Games. It is underway now in Kazan, the capital of the Tatarstan region that will host a BRICS summit later this year. The whole thing has quickly turned into a laughing stock, embarrassing the hosts.

  • At first, Russia wanted two “alternative Olympics.” Alongside the BRICS Games, Putin had suggested staging a “Friendship Games” in Moscow and Yekaterinburg in September. That name might ring a bell — it was a deliberate channeling of a 1984 tournament that took place during the Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics and saw the USSR compete with other socialist countries. But at the last moment, the 2024 Friendship Games was canceled when it became clear that it would be impossible to bring together contestants even from friendly countries right after the Olympics. However, the BRICS Games was not so lucky to be put out of its misery — that show must go on.
  • There have been sporting competitions linked to the BRICS summit since 2017, but this is the first time any of the hosts have tried to turn it into a major event. The Russian organizers claimed that 90 countries were represented, with only a quarter of the athletes coming from Russia. Of course, this close to the Olympics, no major athletes would even think of attending. For instance, of the 100 competitors from China, not one will be in action in Paris. 
  • The organizers have also used some creative accounting when it comes to tallying up the competing countries. At the Opening Ceremony there were flag bearers from Britain and Germany, but there are no athletes from these countries competing at the game. In total, there were 22 of these “ghost” countries out of the promised 90. The only French entrant turned out to be a student at a Moscow sports school.
  • The only event that actually garnered widespread international coverage was the synchronized swimming. That’s because the contest had one entrant, a Russian, who automatically won the gold.
  • In wrestling, one bout was won by a Lithuanian fighter who didn’t even make it to the contest. His opponent, from Romania, also failed to show up and the referee, standing alone in the ring, decided to award the victory to the absent Lithuanian over the absent Romanian.
  • Despite the farce, the BRICS Games has been given major airtime on Russia’s national sports channel Match TV. It even pushed daytime Euro 2024 games off the schedule, despite the fact that the football is far more attractive even without Russia taking part. This turned out to be politically helpful at times. Early kick-offs featuring Ukraine have not been broadcast, making way for the BRICS Games. And after Match TV had to cut 11 seconds from its live broadcast of Georgia’s first game when fans started singing, “Putin is a dick”, it elected to show the BRICS Games for their second encounter..

Why the world should care

Sometimes news from Russia suggests that, far from rebuilding the USSR, officials are trying to act out Soviet-era jokes in the 21st century. Long before the BRICS games, there was the famous line: “Brezhnev and Nixon had a race. Nixon won. The Soviet papers reported that Brezhnev came second and Nixon was second last.”


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