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Winter Olympics ceremony 'personal triumph' for Putin

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

European commentators portrayed the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics as a personal triumph and even an exorbitant show of power for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

There was general praise for the opening spectacle in the Black Sea resort of Sochi even if commentators revived criticism of the build-up to the Games, including Russia's gay rights record and the unprecedented $50 billion cost of staging the sporting event.

"Putin demanded a wondrous launch to this 22nd edition of the Winter Olympic Games here in Sochi," wrote Ian Chadband in The Daily Telegraph.

"And with £31 billion being ploughed into making the world gasp at his 'new' Russia's extraordinary reach and ambition, unsurprisingly his wish was granted with a ceremony which, even if it lacked London 2012's humour and fun, proved a gasp-inducing, visual journey through his country's history," said Chadband.

The Times hailed Britain's own staging of the Summer Games in 2012, but said Sochi offered "a red-hot spectacle" even if there had been a technical glitch.

One of five illuminated snowflakes which were supposed to morph into the Olympic rings failed to appear, leaving an embarrassing set of just four rings.

"For President Putin it is a chance to show off Russia as a resurgent superpower, but his efforts have been hampered by a plethora of problems and criticism from the gay community, human rights groups and even animal rights activists," The Times said.

Jonathan McEvoy, writing in the Daily Mail, also hailed the spectacle.

"For Russia last night it marked its revival as a post-Soviet powerhouse, confident of its seat at the top table after two decades of doubt and despondency," McEvoy wrote.

"This was an unapologetic advert -- history on Russia's terms.

"There was no doubt who was the all-action hero of this piece. The light on the presidential box remained on when all others were switched off, in case anyone did not get the message," he wrote.

French newspapers were harsher on Putin, seeing in him imperialist ambitions.

The communist newspaper Humanite said: "The capitalist accumulation there (in the regime) is brutally piloted by the 'Tsar' and so much the worse for the little people."

For the sports newspaper L'Equipe, the event showed up Putin's excessive zeal.

"Rarely have Olympic Games been personified or excessive to this point. Vladimir Putin, the Tsar of the Kremlin, worked alone for Sochi's destiny. Without worrying about the staggering costs or the flouted human rights," L'Equipe said.

In Italy, La Stampa daily said "there was a lot of Russian-tinted pride to tell the world that the power of yesteryear is back."

La Stampa called it a "a very personal triumph" for Putin, but added: "The show was too big and costly for a Winter Olympics."

Many Italian newspapers saw the bright German uniforms as a challenge to Russia's anti-gay law and picked up on the glitch with the Olympic rings.

"That technical problem may be the perfect symbol of this Winter Olympics and all the non-sport polemics that have accompanied it," said the Corriere dello Sport daily, adding that it might be significant that the ring that failed to materialise was the one that represents the American continent.

Most Italian media referred to Sochi as "Putin's Olympics".

"It was as lavish as had been predicted and as all-encompassing as Russia, leaving something memorable in every classical fragment," the La Repubblica daily said.

La Repubblica contrasted the ceremony's "solemnity" with the "frivolous" ceremony in London.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140207/winter-olympics-ceremony-personal-triumph-putin