Philip is an Olympian who represented the U.S. in rowing.
By most accounts, the 2014 Sochi Olympics were very well run and thoroughly enjoyed by athletes and spectators with a minimum of protests or distractions. A recent poll conducted by the Guardian asked “Were the 2014 Winter Olympics a success for Russia?” According to 77 percent of respondents, the answer was “Yes.” And with the games coming in at a reported cost of $50 billion, Russia certainly spared no expense.
However, I’m not sure Russia got the beneficial image impact such an effort should have yielded. That’s because Russia was sending out two powerful and opposite messages. Never a good strategy.
Unrest Detracts from Impressive Games
The Olympics surely helped us admire Russia and Russians. The sheer scale of the undertaking in Sochi was impressive. And the Olympics are always a chance for the host country to show off its best qualities.
But even as the Games were being played, images of chaos and discontent in Russia’s sphere of influence undercut the general goodwill. The continuous shipment of armaments and ammunition to the Syrian government for use against its citizens continues to hurt Russia (at least in the West and among supporters of human rights). So does support for the authoritarian regime and strong-arm tactics of recently ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych.
Less than a week after the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, Russia is conducting military maneuvers on the Ukrainian border and the cover of The Economist shows a figure silhouetted against a flaming backdrop with the headline, “Putin’s inferno.”
The Sochi Olympics have been the most expensive Games ever. From such an expenditure, one would expect a benefit to the host country’s image. And that has generally been the case. But while the Olympics are likely to offer a short-term benefit to Russia on the world stage, its geopolitical tactics will continue to be a long-term problem.
The lesson here, for all organizations, is that your organization’s behavior will have more long term impact than any short-term communication initiative. Ideally, your behavior should be consistent with your communications.