Protest Against Sochi Figure Skating Results: Not A Matter of Nationalism, But Ethics

Michelle S. Lee '16 Design Editor

A number of controversies have centered on the recent Sochi Winter Olympics. For the last couple of weeks, it had been more or less an entertaining Twitter feed that branched out into our social media sphere – sure, what else is new? What resonated the most with me wasn’t the technical failures of certain stadiums, nor the question of misplaced funding for a supposedly $50 billion games – though that’s certainly a worthy question of its own. But, getting back to the point, for me it was the controversial results of the figure skating competition. South Korean competitor Yuna Kim, gold medalist of the 2010 Vancouver games and favored figure skater for this year’s Sochi games, faced several odd tumbles in her competition that have stirred a great deal of public outcry – and I’m not talking physical tumbles. Essentially, the question boiled down to the not-so-reputable nature of the judging system, as well as the judges themselves. One of the judges was the wife of the director of the Russian Figure Skating Federation; another was caught on tape tampering with scores during the Salt Lake City Olympics of 2002. But because the judging system is anonymous, it seems unlikely we’ll ever know how the world record-breaking ice skater was bested by home competitor Adelina Sotnikova, whose score, barely shy of the world record, reflected the drastic increase in her scores that has taken place over the last few months. And yet what disturbs me more is that certain news networks and commentators regard this controversy with an almost blasé attitude. A CNN article titled “Gold For Russia, Silver for South Korea, and Controversy Ensues” wrote almost condescendingly of the alleged ethical violations, as if South Korea is picking at details to preserve nationalistic fervor, and spent little time in defense of those challenging the results. An article on the Washington Post cheekily concludes that maybe Sotnikova’s performance was innately more likable. Others pass off the incident as if it were natural for the Olympics’ home country to give preference to its own athletes, but do little to challenge the notion. When I brought this up to a friend of mine, she initially shrugged it off as something that was inherent, inevitable and likely to happen anywhere . She implied that home advantage, as an inescapable psychological effect, is why Sotnikova won. I don’t dispute that the cheering of a pretty vocal crowd of spectators sparked Sotnikova’s confidence, or that the audience’s reserved support for other athletes reduced the flair of their performances in the judges’ eyes. But when a judge gives a world record-breaking figure skater a 0 for her jumps when NBC commentators had remarked “This woman has no equal” during har live performance, psychological nationalism evolves into something a little less benign and a little more ill-intentioned. So it’s not surprising that much of the Korean population was enraged by how the scoring system of the Olympics, assumed to symbolize global unity in fair competition, could be so impartial and non-transparent. But it wasn’t just Korean spectators who were pointing this out – Dick Button, a former Olympic figure skating champion, has expressed personal support for Kim’s performance, noting that Sotnikova’s gold medal may have been undeserved. Various others have expressed vocal support for Kim’s performance, an unusual contrast to sports commentators who, while quick to praise Kim during her performances, slowly faded into the periphery as the controversy grew larger. The fact of the matter is, one can’t simply pass over ethical violations such as this and excuse protest as a debate of pride. True, if Yuna Kim hadn’t been the expected gold medalist for figure skating, the Korean Olympics Committee wouldn’t be the one filing their complaint right now. But this would only be because they were more aware of the issue, not because they wanted to justify the rulings in their favor. This is a matter of ethical rulings in sports competitions. For a game that celebrates the fairness and unity of nations, even if it grossly misrepresents actual socioeconomic conditions while allocating unfathomable quantities of money for symbolic achievement, incidents such as these should be a reminder that if we let these crooked moments slip through our judgment, we are allowing the hard-earned training of hundreds of athletes from around the world to be viewed through a narrowed lens. So next time you see the petition of over 1.6 million signatures float onto your newsfeed, don’t blow it off as just another Sochi story. Because while realistically we may not always see justice, at least we can let them know we’re watching, and we’re responding.