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For Young People, Winter Olympics 2014 Became a Family Event

Young Russians took the Sochi Olympics as a family holiday rather than a state one. Their parents’ nostalgic memories about the 1980 Olympic Games played their role, which were a personal and at the same time a national event for many Russians. Sochi 2014’s promotion as a national holiday worked worse, though. For young people, the excitement in official media was drowned by criticism of the Olympics on the internet, Anna Sanina, Associate Professor at the HSE St. Petersburg Department of State and Municipal Administration, and research assistants Anastasia Kozlova and Olesya Trigolos, found out

Young Russians’ attitude to the Sochi Olympics, which was held under a slogan ‘Hot. Cool. Yours’, was formed in several ways. Part of them saw the 2014 games through family history and nostalgic memories of their mothers, fathers and grandparents about the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Other young people’s attitude to the games was largely influenced by the internet, including social networks and blogs, where a more sceptical attitude towards the event prevailed.

Young people who ‘hang out’ in virtual reality were strongly influenced by the anti-propaganda of the Olympic Games. The internet had much criticism of the sports event as a ‘black hole’ that devoured state money, and many online commentators relished the faults in the organization of the games, and stressed the opulence of the festival in the context of serious social problems in the country. These clichés were reproduced by young people during the study carried out by experts from the HSE campus in St. Petersburg, Anna Sanina, Anastasia Kozlova and Olesya Trigolos. Their project revealed an ‘information gap between the state and youth channels of information’, which led to young people’s skepticism towards official media.

The results of this study were published in the article ‘Influence of the Sochi Olympic Games on Evolving State Identity among Young Russians: Results of an Empirical Study’, which was published in WCIOM’s Public Opinion Monitoring, #3 (121), 2014.

The surveys were held at the end of 2013 in 14 large universities across Russia. 1057 questionnaires were received. The average age of the respondents was 21, with approximately the equal numbers of men and women.

The survey was supplemented with eight focus groups, 6-10 people each, in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd, Voronezh, Irkutsk, and Novosibirsk. The average age of the focus group participants was 22. 42% of them were male, and 58% female.

Internet divided the government and the youth

Big sports events, especially the Olympic Games, carry an ideological potential, which is broadcast through official and traditional media, such as TV, radio, and the press. The question is whether this is effective. According to the researchers, in the case of young people it is not really successful. Young Russians are more inclined to believe other mass media, such as internet resources, including social networks, online magazines, information websites, blogs, etc. According to Sanina, Kozlova and Trigolos, these new media ‘have expectedly become a platform for alternative news and discussions’.

The research authors studied students’ viewpoints in the focus groups. They noticed that these opinions were not only critically oriented, but also stereotypical. Comparing the Olympics with a ‘black hole’ (due to its high costs), contrasting ‘opulent games – needy hospitals’, ‘rich Sochi official – poor Moscow pensioner’ – these rather trite ideas were so widespread on the internet that they were even used in demotivators, a genre of visual irony popular in social networks.

‘Immediately after the announcement of the Winter Olympics and during its preparation, a lot of demotivators started to appear on the internet emphasizing the unprofitability of the event’, the experts said. Topics of the images included both problems in the economy and examples of corruption.

It is significant that the key headlines of Sochi demotivators were mentioned by participants in all focus groups. This allows us to conclude that internet discourse was primary in forming young people’s notions of the Sochi Olympics. In other words, in most cases, a negative image of Sochi 2014 was initially formed in students’ minds.

And the higher a respondent evaluated the cost of organizing the Olympics, the more actively they were interested in problems with the games’ organization, the authors of the article said. This means that an initial negative attitude to the event made young people react more keenly to details.

However, prejudices against the Olympic Games replicated in the internet were largely refuted by the attitude to the festival that had been formed in the families of the responding students. Their parents’ impressions of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow made young people look at Sochi 2014 in a different way.

Olympic Bear stayed to live in the family

Positive attitude to the Olympic Games as a state and private festival had been formed through ‘discussions in small social groups, primarily in families’. This conclusion was made after a survey among students.

Most of the parents of today’s young people remember the 1980 Olympic Games and the feelings it caused. It was as if families once again experienced the events of over 30 years ago. ‘Comparison of the two sporting events, which one way or another happened in everyday communication, played a key role in a positive attitude towards the Sochi Olympics’, the authors of the article emphasized.

Family discussions of the Olympics included symbolic images and feelings. One of the main characters in the memories was the most touching symbol of the 1980 games – the Olympic Bear. People remembered their enthusiasm about the past games, outstanding performances by athletes, and how they watched the competition on TV together with neighbours. These nostalgic memories caused positive emotions in young people as well.

For example, one of the respondents said: ‘I was generally indifferent about all this [2014 Olympics]. But when I heard what and how my parents discussed, then… this is a holiday, even pride, a feeling of unity. And I started digging for images on the internet [from the 1980 Olympics]… Thanks to my parents I got into this wave… these are great emotions’.

It is interesting that negativity in young people’s expressions was surprisingly combined with ‘a positive emotional leap, reflecting belief in their country, victory mood and what can be conventionally called “patriotic love”’, the authors said. The general formula of such expressions might be described as this: ‘Faults often happen here… But now, probably, everything is going to be fine’.

The positive emotional attitude to the Olympic Games is clearly connected with an awareness about the process of preparing for the event, the idea of the Sochi Games as a nation-uniting movement, and with the widespread level of participation in preparing for the games.

Balanced patriotism promotes a dialogue with the state

The article authors correlated the facts of reasonable criticism and positive emotions with the cognitive, normative and activity aspects of state identity. On the basis of these correlations they determined four social groups reflecting how young people perceive the state.

The first group is sceptics (38.2%). They demonstrate a low level of state identity and are not interested in significant events taking place in the country.

The second group is reasonable patriots (25.7%). Respondents of this type consider the Olympics an important event for the country and see their role in the process of its preparation. They are passively ready to participate in the life of the state. However, this group considers a trip to the Games (or even watching them) as a waste of time and money, which could be better invested in self-development.

The third group is hundred-percenters (21.1%). They see the Olympic Games as an indisputable reason for pride and criticize those who negatively talk about the Games’ preparation.

The fourth type, sports patriots (15%), is related only to the research specifics.

The most interesting of all groups are reasonable patriots, who combine criticism with positive emotional attitudes, the researchers commented. Generally, this group’s position looks the most balanced. According to the experts, it is this group of people who can be considered as the most promising for developing communication between young people and the state. Their patriotism can be called constructive. Criticism towards the state in this case is a driver for its development.

As a result of the study the experts conclude that young people poorly associate themselves with the life of the state. Most of the students started being interested with details of the Games’ organization after they had already had a negative opinion on the forthcoming event.

This is a sign of faults in official media and insufficient effectiveness of the advertising campaigns for state events, the researchers believe. State media should try to establish a dialogue between the government and young people, the article authors wrote. The task of such media is to form a positive image of the country in the eyes of its residents, but in the modern society, which lives in a new communicative environment, such an image can’t be formed only through straightforward propaganda.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, September 26, 2014