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Understanding Russia’s identity through Olympic ceremonies

Kramareva, N and Grix, J ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7315-1641 (2022) Understanding Russia’s identity through Olympic ceremonies. European Journal for Sport and Society. ISSN 1613-8171

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Abstract

This paper focuses on the comparative (mis-)interpretation of the 1980 Moscow and 2014 Sochi Olympic ceremonies by media outlets located in Great Britain and the USA, Russia’s ‘significant others’. Further, the paper attempts to uncover the most persistent facets of Russia’s identity–by decoding culturally-specific meanings of the signs and symbols in both ceremonies–and to trace which aspects of its national narrative Russia had to let go eventually in the course of the 34 years that separate the two Olympics. This is undertaken by a documentary analysis of ‘Western’ media between the periods of 20 July and 6 August for Moscow and 7–23 February for Sochi–time frames when the direct coverage of the ceremonies took place. Our key findings suggest that instead of enabling Russia to validate a new national identity and image the Western media only helped to reproduce resilient reciprocal national identities. Furthermore, it was the Sochi Olympics as Russia's biggest soft power party to date, not the aftermath, which, not least through a transformative attendant media response/framing from both sides, became the closing chapter of the Russian-Western interdependent identity construction in the early 21st century. Thus, apart from placing the spotlight on Russia’s evolving identity and interests, this paper also investigates how the USA’s and the UK’s media resisted Russia’s (Soviet) soft power strategy, whilst in the process solidifying their own identities and promoting their strategic narratives.

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