In a full-page ad in The New York Times Tuesday entitled “An Appeal to President Putin and the Russian Government,” 51 signatories called on President Vladimir Putin of Russia to lead efforts in helping the millions suffering in Syria. The headline reads, “Give the world a real Olympic opening — open Syria to life-saving aid.” Slow down there, signatories, Russia is still trying to illuminate that fifth Olympic ring.
As it holds one of the most expensive Olympic Games in history, Russia has been under a global spotlight in the past few weeks. Regardless of its shortcomings, according to the appeal, “The Sochi Winter Olympics will deliver a dazzling spectacle, breath-taking athleticism and shimmering winter beauty.” The appeal then continues to say, although Sochi is currently accommodating this grand event with thousands of athletes and spectators from all over the world, Putin should be paying attention to “a very different spectacle” that is unfolding in Syria.
As the appeal points out, 2 million children have been forced out of school in Syria, while 9 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance — more than 13 times the number of people that are attending or participating in the Sochi Games.
“If the Olympic Games showcases the best of humanity, Syria showcases the worst. The most expensive Games in history will take place so close to the worst humanitarian crisis of our times,” the appeal states.
Syria is a mess and there is no hiding that fact, but this country became a mess long before the Olympics were held a mere 1,000 miles away.
Notable signatories of this appeal include former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former U.S. National Security Advisor Samuel Berger and musician and social activist Peter Gabriel. These signatories, among 48 others, are urging President Putin to lead efforts in solving Syria’s enduring humanitarian problems. These provisions include leading efforts that ensure aid reaches all those in need, abolishing the use of illegal war tactics and providing grounds for a peaceful coexistence among differing faiths and backgrounds. The appeal claims Putin’s efforts could, “unlock the step-change the world wants to see in alleviating the suffering of the Syrian people.”
The opening paragraph of the appeal adequately highlights the contrast between the grandeur of the Winter Games and the desolation in Syria, however, it is a weak argument. Just because Russia is somewhat, kind-of-sort-of close to Syria, does not mean Putin is responsible for righting all of the wrongs within the country. He’s got his own issues to worry about for the next few weeks— like the fact that #sochiproblems is trending on Twitter.
Although a full-page ad in The New York Times is a noble attempt at bringing the plight in Syria back into the minds of the public, it is not fair to pin this burden on Putin. Syria’s suffering is not something Putin should be worrying about during the 16 days of the Winter Games, but rather it is something we should all be worrying about all the time.
If the 2014 Winter Olympics were in New York would the same 51 signatories be calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to pay attention to the ongoing drug war in Mexico around 2,000 miles away? What about when the 2004 Summer Olympics were held in Greece? Nobody put out a full-page ad in The New York Times calling for former Greek President Konstantinos Stephanopoulos to use the Olympics as a stage to aid the War in Darfur, Sudan, 1,800 miles away.
The point of the Olympics is to temporarily set aside all of our existing geopolitical differences in the world, and instead use it as a time for us to all be together as a world. These next 11 days should be used for each country to showcase its best talent and to celebrate their raw athletic ability and determination.
Just as the appeal states, during the Sochi Olympics we as a world are witnessing, “extreme feats of human bravery and see in the faces of the world’s best athletes the sheer tenacity and commitment that has gone into training for the games.” This is what the Games have always been about, and what they should continue to be about.