Thursday, 27 February 2014 15:01

So Long Sochi and Social Change - Closing Ceremonies for Social Causes at the 2014 Winter Olympics

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LGBT / Human Rights
The biggest stories around the LGBT community and sports didn't happen at the Olympics. Michael Sam's announcement and the Nets' signing of Jason Collins were significant events in the journey towards inclusion and equality in sports. What did happen in Sochi were gay rights activists being detained and arrested, but those stories didn't make big headlines. Meanwhile, there was much talk early on of how Olympic sponsors who didn't speak out against Russia's harsh laws would be punished in the social media universe and beyond. According to some, that didn't happen.

Without question, the most insightful piece of all was penned by OutSports founder Cyd Zeigler @CydZeigler on how the LGBT community failed to use the Olympics as the platform to drive change in Russia. "How does boycotting Visa and Coca-Cola, or pouring vodka into the street, advance LGBT rights in Russia? They don't."

Another story that certainly didn't run on NBC, but did make news in week two was the appearance and then quick disappearance of Russian activists / musicians Pussy Riot. Once arriving in Sochi, two of the groups members were beaten in public and then abruptly whisked away by police, but were able to get word out through the power of social media as to what was happening.

Fundraising at the Finnish Line
Team Finland wrapped up these games with 5 medals, including an impressive Bronze medal victory in Men's Hockey led by NHL veteran Teemu Selane. The biggest victory of all for Finland's Winter Olympians may very well be a unique fundraising campaign where the bikes the Men's and Women's Hockey Team's used to get around the Olympic village have been autographed and are being auctioned off to raise money for a children's hospital back in Finland.

The fact that Women's Skiing Halfpipe was competed at the Winter Olympics for the first time was due in large part to the efforts and influence of Canadian freeksier Sarah Burke, who died in a training accident in 2012. Burke was a pioneeer in the women's sports movement and was recognized and beautifully honored by event organizers, athletes and the NBC network. Burke's former coach and her husband found a unique way to pay tribute to her at these games as well.

Ukraine Gold - a Glimmer of Hope?
It seems that in every Olympic Games we see athletes who compete with the weight of an entire nation on their shoulders, most often not by their own choosing. As these games progressed into the later stages of week two and political chaos in the Ukraine reached tragic levels, the significance of the Ukrainian Women's Biathlon team winning gold in the 4x6 km Relay wasn't lost on anyone, including NBC.

Prime time host Bob Costas addressed how concerned Ukrainian athletes were about their country's political unrest, and tied what was going on there to Vladimir Putin's Russia. Costas said the Games had been better executed than many people feared going in, "all of which is truly wonderful, but should not serve to obscure a harsher or more lasting truth. This is still a government which imprisons dissidents, is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria — and that's just a partial list." While the games' may burnish Putin's reputation in some eyes, "no amount of Olympic glory can mask these realities," he said. Check out the full clip here.

Healing the Body, Mind and a Skier's Soul
The first week of the games brought us Anna Fenninger and her cheetah print helmet to raise awareness for the Cheetah Conservation Fund. On the games' final Saturday, Canadian Skier Bran Spence tackled the challenging Men's Slalom course in a helmet designed by a 17 year-old cancer patient at Alberta Children's Hospital. Spence's custom red, black, white and gold helmet was created by Gillian O’Blenes who was inspired by his own story of courage and perseverance during a series of hospital visits.


And we also spotted this helmet on eBay from Women's Downhill Bronze Medalist Lara Gut of Switzerland, who has promised to donate the proceeds to build a well in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Granite, Silver and Bronze
Scotland has been synonymous with the sport of Curling for decades. Concurrently, the Scottish town of Lockerbie has been synonymous with tragedy. But now, with three Olympic Curling medalists from Lockerbie, maybe the narrative is changing.

Bringing them Home
Week two saw plenty of additional coverage for the stray dogs in the area being adopted by several Team USA athletes, including Lindsey Jacobellis and Gus Kenworthy. Heart-warming photos aside (Puppies + Olympics = Social Media Gold) it was encouraging that athletes were willing to to make sure some of the animals were saved.

Next up? The Sochi Winter Paralympic Games get started on March 7th. While the coverage may be hard to follow live (thanks NBC, but 3:00 AM broadcasts are a bit tough to catch), we'll be clearing out the DVR soon to watch more great winter sports competitions.

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