Will the Olympics ever be relevant again after Russia decides not to participate?

Hints of Russians’ Return to International Sports Rekindle Debate Over Their Exclusion

A Russian sports official said the nation’s athletes “will not take part in the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.” (Konstantin Dolgopolov/Sputnik)

As the world’s attention turns toward the Sochi Olympics for the first time in two decades, it is tempting to overlook an issue affecting so many people: Russia’s decision in 2008 not to send any athletes to the games. Russia has had a long history of international sports — its national teams have competed in virtually every major sport, from equestrian, archery, and fencing to boxing, ice hockey, and football. The country’s sports officials argued throughout the decade that there was no longer any need to send a Russian delegation to the Olympics because its athletes were participating at the highest level.

However, the decision to not send any athletes was not only about sport: It also sent a powerful message to the world. After all, if the Russian government decided not to send any athletes to the Olympics for the first time in its history, it was sending a powerful message to its citizens and to anyone who might challenge Russia’s view of itself. If Russia decided to “not participate,” then the Olympics can no longer be viewed as the world’s largest gathering of athletes, the only showcase in a global community for world governments that have declared themselves democracies and the global community’s primary political forum. If Russia does not accept the reality of other nations, then the Olympics can no longer serve as the perfect forum for international political discussion or a window through which to view the world from a global perspective. And if Russia decides not to participate, then Russians will have no choice but to return to participating in international sports again.

The question has been whether the Olympics can maintain its relevance as the world’s global political forum after this latest decision. Some are hopeful that the decision will be reversed, while others see it as more proof that Russia’s government will make whatever decision it feels fit. Certainly, the decision will be a blow to the Olympic movement, and the world is now left with a question that Russia’s government has chosen not to answer: Will the Olympics ever be relevant again after a country decides not to participate?

The question also raises an important question: What is the

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