Bolshoi, Basil’s, and Babushka: Just what is Russia’s Sochi Strategy?

Last week in class, to my utter delight, we talked a bit about sports diplomacy and the media. The course is Media & Foreign Policy, so basically take any subject you want, add media, and we could probably go for a couple hours if you let us. Last week, we started talking about the messages host countries send by hosting the Olympics, the World Cup, and though we didn’t bring it up, I’m going to retrospectively throw in world expos because I love them and it’s my blog. Diplomacy, for the most part, is half about knowing your audience and half about knowing your message. Forget the Socratic adage “Know thyself.” It’s more like “Know what thou wantest them thither to know.” Longer, but truer.

Textbook case would be Beijing 2008. If you watch television, read magazines at the doctor’s office, or are really just alive in any way, you would know that China kind of knocked those opening ceremonies out of the park. In the build up to London 2012, the question on everyone’s lips: how could Britain possibly top that spectacle of power, numbers, and strategically-placed LED screens?

Danny Boyle’s ode to Britain was the best thing London 2012 could have done. From a personal point-of-view, I thought it was highly enjoyable. I love the theater. From a Media & FP perspective, they succeeded. Because you know what, they knew their audience. China’s whole messaging was focused on introducing the world to China, demystifying an ancient land, and setting the stage for its arrival on the world scene. Britain’s been on the scene since Methuselah. People know Britain and British culture already, from Shakespeare to Rowling, Mary Poppins to James Bond. Danny Boyle was like “We may not have 2,008 frighteningly in-sync drummers, but darn it, we’ve got the Queen!…Let’s throw her out of an airplane!”


It’s all about knowing your audience, guys. So as news alerts about Sochi start to rush into my inbox, I have to wonder what Russia’s Sochi Strategy is. Will their display of history and culture jump from the tzars to Sharapova, or are we going to be honest and throw a little Cold War in there? Britain conveniently side-stepped that whole Imperialism bit, so I doubt it. I for one predict an opening of Matryoshka dolls…over and over again, some Sochi Smackdown: War & Peace vs. Crime & Punishment, all rounded out by the entire Bolshoi Ballet contorted into St. Basil’s Cathedral. Called it!


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